Laika, the first earthling in Space

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Jennie McGrath:
Due to the overshadowing issue of the Soviet vs. American Space Race, the humane violations of this experiment went largely unaddressed for some time. As newspaper clippings from 1957 show, the press was more preoccupied with reporting the political perspective, while the health and retrieval (or lack thereof) of Laika was hardly mentioned. Only later were there widespread discussions regarding the fate of the dog.

Sputnik 2 was not designed to be retrievable, so Laika had always been intended to die. The mission sparked a debate across the globe on the mistreatment of animals and animal testing in general to advance science.

In the United Kingdom, the National Canine Defence League called on all dog owners to observe a minute's silence, while the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) received protests even before the Soviet Union had finished announcing the mission's success. Animal rights groups at the time called on members of the public to protest at Soviet embassies. Others demonstrated outside the United Nations in New York; nevertheless, laboratory researchers in the U.S. offered some support for the Russians, at least before the news of Laika's death.

In the Soviet Union, there was apparently less controversy. Neither the media, books in the following years, nor the public openly questioned the decision to send a dog into space to die. It was not until 1998, after the collapse of the Soviet regime, that Oleg Gazenko, one of the scientists responsible for sending Laika into space, expressed regret for allowing her to die: "The more time passes, the more I'm sorry about it. We shouldn't have done it... We did not learn enough from this mission to justify the death of the dog."

Jennie McGrath:

NASA named this soil target on Mars after Laika during the Mars Exploration Rover mission

Jennie McGrath:
Laika's pioneering journey made her one of the most famous dogs in the world.

She is perhaps the only character in the Monument to the Conquerors of Space (1964), other than Lenin himself, who can be individually identified by name. A plaque commemorating fallen cosmonauts was unveiled at the Institute for Aviation and Space Medicine in Star City, Moscow, in November 1997; Laika appears in one corner. Several postage stamps from different countries have pictured her. Brands of chocolate and cigarettes were named in her honour, and a large collection of Laika memorabilia still appear in auctions today.

On March 9, 2005, a patch of soil on Mars was unofficially named Laika by mission controllers. It is located near Vostok Crater in Meridiani Planum. It was examined by the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity's microscopic imager on Sol 400.

Laika has been featured in numerous works of literature, often with a theme of her survival or rescue. The novel Intervention by Julian May mentions Laika's rescue by a sympathetic alien race. In the novel Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles by Jeanette Winterson, the ancient Greek titan Atlas finds Laika's capsule in orbit and adopts the dog. In Habitus, by James Flint, Laika survives and continues to orbit the earth, having learned to draw sustenance from the world's radio transmissions. There are also stories of her funeral (in the Doctor Who novel Alien Bodies) and travel to other planets (in the comic anthology Flight). Contemporary Japanese author Haruki Murakami's book, Sputnik Sweetheart, refers to Laika's death on its title page with a quotation from The Complete Chronicle of World History. Nick Abadzis' graphic novel Laika is a fictionalized version of the dog's life.

A number of bands have taken inspiration from Laika for their names, including Laika Dog, Laika & The Cosmonauts and the eponymous Laika, whose first three albums feature the canine cosmonaut in their cover art. The Spanish pop group Mecano, the Canadian band Arcade Fire, the band Moxy Früvous and the Swedish band The Cardigans have all written songs called "Laika". In 1986, CCCP released Cosmos featuring the song "Laika Laika", complete with Russian military men's chorus. Laika has been featured in songs by (among others) Akino Arai ("Sputnik"); Ĺge Aleksandersen ("Laika"); The Divine Comedy ("Absent Friends" and "Laika's Theme"); Havalina ("Leica"); The Motorhomes ("Into the Night"); Neighborhood #2 (Laďka), by the Arcade Fire; Mighty Sparrow ("Russian Satellite"); Pond ("My Dog is an Astronaut, Though"); Kyler England ("Laika") and The Circle Jerks ("Dog"). In 2002, the group Spacemonkeyz released a remixed version of the Gorillaz album called Laika Come Home. György Kurtág's tape composition, Memoire de Laika (1990) incorporates spoken text about the dog.

The 2007 video for the Trentemřller song, Moan, was about Laika. In the 1985 Swedish film My Life as a Dog (Mitt liv som hund), the protagonist—a boy who feels powerless over his own fate—compares himself to Laika.

Jennie McGrath:
The True Story of Laika the Dog
By Anatoly Zak
Staff Writer
posted: 03:12 pm ET
03 November 1999


On November 3, 1957, the U.S.S.R. stunned the world with a space sensation -- the launch of Sputnik 2 with a live dog on-board. But many details of what happened to the mission have only recently been revealed.

The Space Age had started less than a month before, with the launch of the first Soviet satellite on October 4, 1957. Sputnik 1, a 40-pound sphere, carried a simple transmitter and was considered very heavy compared to the U.S. spacecraft under development at the time.

Enter Sputnik 2. The Soviet press boasted about the 250-pound object equipped with a cabin, providing all the necessary life support for a dog named Laika. Well, almost. The Soviets admitted soon after the launch that the spacecraft would not return, meaning that the animal was doomed from the start. Years after Sputnik 2 burned up in the atmosphere, conflicting scenarios of Laika's death were circulating in the West.

Recently, several Russian sources revealed that Laika survived in orbit for four days and then died when the cabin overheated. The design of the cabin was derived from the nose sections of experimental ballistic missiles that carried dogs into the upper atmosphere in short and relatively slow-speed flights, ending in a parachute landing.

With Sputnik 2, the Cold War politics left no time for designers to develop a life-support system for a long-duration flight, not to mention to protect a spacecraft for a fiery reentry.

Laika's story started soon after the Sputnik 1 triumph, when Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader at the time, hosted a big reception for leading rocket designers. Among those present was Sergei Korolev, the founder of the Soviet space program. At the reception, Khrushchev made the suggestion that another Sputnik be launched to mark the 40th Anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution celebrated on November 7.

At the time, Korolev had a sophisticated research satellite in the works. However, it could not possibly be ready for takeoff before December 1957. That satellite would later become Sputnik 3. To meet the November anniversary deadline, an entirely new design for Sputnik 2 emerged.

According to various Russian sources, the official decision to launch Sputnik 2 before November 7 was made on October 10 or 12, 1957. In any case, Korolev's team had less than four weeks to design and build the spacecraft.

"All traditions developed in rocket technology were thrown out (during work on the second satellite)," wrote Boris Chertok, deputy to Sergei Korolev. "The second satellite was created without preliminary design, or any kind of design." According to Chertok's memoirs, most elements of the spacecraft were manufactured from sketches, while engineers moved into production facilities to assist workers on site.

The common belief is that Sputnik 2 failed to separate from its booster. In reality, the satellite was designed to remain attached to the upper stage of its launcher, so that the rocket's own telemetry system could be used to transmit data from the spacecraft.

The scientists did their best to benefit from this opportunity created by Cold War politics. Laika's cabin was equipped with a television camera, along with sensors to measure ambient pressure and temperature, as well as the canine passenger's blood pressure, breath frequency and heartbeat. These instruments allowed ground controllers to monitor how Laika functioned and died in space. Above the dog's cabin, the engineers mounted a spherical container that was developed for Sputnik 1. It held a radio transmitter and an instrument to register ultraviolet and x-ray radiation.

After a successful launch, Sputnik 2 exhausted its electrical batteries after six days in orbit. With all systems dead, the spacecraft continued circling the Earth until April 14, 1958, when it reentered the atmosphere after 2,570 orbits.

The Sputnik 2 flight exemplified how science was propelled by Cold War politics -- a trend that would become more pronounced on both sides of the Atlantic in later years.

Although advertised as another example of the superiority of the Soviet system, Laika's mission also brought a few unintended results. In the West, Sputnik 2 renewed the debate over the treatment of animals, while in the U.S.S.R., the flight was widely ridiculed by ordinary citizens as propaganda.

Jennie McGrath:
The original news report:

1957: Russians launch dog into space

The dog is reported to be calm in the first few hours of her historic flight

The Soviet Union has launched the first ever living creature into the cosmos.
The dog, described as a female Russian breed, was projected into space this morning from Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard the artificial space satellite Sputnik II. Sputnik I, launched on 4 October, is still circling the globe.

The dog has been fitted with monitors to check its heartbeat and other vital signs and was reported to be calm during the first hours of the flight.

Russian scientists are particularly interested in the effects of solar radiation and weightlessness on living organisms.

Fury of animal lovers

Moscow Radio reported the second satellite was launched to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the October Revolution and gave details about the spacecraft's contents and orbit.

Sputnik II weighs half a ton (508kg) and carries instruments for studying solar and cosmic rays, temperature and pressure, two radio transmitters and a hermetically-sealed container with "an experimental animal" inside, as well as oxygen and food supplies.

It is travelling more than 900 miles, (nearly 1,500 km) above the Earth - higher than Sputnik I - and is orbiting at about five miles (8km) a second.

It will take one hour and 42 minutes to circle the Earth.

The satellite is transmitting telegraphic signals that are being picked up from receiving stations around the globe.

Animal welfare organisations expressed outrage at news that the Russians have sent a dog into outer space.

The National Canine Defence League is calling on all dog lovers to observe a minute's silence every day the dog is in space.

The RSPCA said it received calls of protest even before the Moscow Radio announcement of the launch had ended.

It has advised those who wish to protest to do so at the Russian Embassy in London.

'Dog was trained for mission'

It is believed the Russians are planning to catapult the dog back to Earth although there has been no official announcement confirming this.

One British scientist told newspaper reporters the dog had probably been trained for the journey but was unlikely to survive.

"A terrified dog would be useless scientifically," said Dr William Lane-Petter, Director of the Laboratory Animals Bureau of the Medical Research Council.

"It would not give them the information they want. This dog will have been trained long for the task and subjected to similar simulated conditions, and this flight is just another experience of the same sort."


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