First Dog in Space
Laika, the first dog in space, was a stray female mixed-breed terrier that was taken off the streets of Moscow, and prepared by Russian trainers and cosmonauts for her ill-fated mission during the famed “Space Race” period. Though her voyage was successful in the eyes of science, she did not survive it.
Her story is an extremely sad one, even though Laika has been lifted up to celebrity status for the sacrifice she unknowingly made.
During the 1950’s, Russia and the United States were in a frenzied contest to see who could put a person into orbit first in space, with the ultimate goal of reaching the moon.
The Russians started experimenting by sending animals up in small sub-orbital rockets before they developed a larger rocket that could support a human being.
Several dogs were sent up before Laika, but she was the first dog to actually go into orbit in space, so was given the title of being the first living creature in space.
Space Dog Controversy
Even in the 1950’s, there was much controversy over this decision to send a dog into orbit. The conditions were cramped and small, and Laika’s death was pre-determined by the Russians. People were outraged!
You can see a photograph just below of a protest, where animal lovers dressed their dogs up and had them sit in front of the United Nations building to make a statement about animal cruelty during the Space Race period. This photo was taken from an old newspaper article that ran in the THE COMMERCIAL APPEAL, Memphis, Tennessee, November 5, 1957. For more cool old articles that feature stories of dogs from actual historic newspapers that you can purchase, click on the Timothy Hughes banner just under the photograph:
Here is a video broadcast during the time that covered the story:
The reason that the Russian Sputnik ll mission was especially debated was that Laika was sent up in orbit with limited food and absolutely no way to bring her back to earth, so her death was planned as a sacrifice to science right from the start. This was not announced by the Russians until after Laika had been sent into space.
In the Russian newsreel below, you will not be able to understand what they are saying, but the equipment is shown in great detail and there is a lot of clear video of Laika in her space rocket, the Sputnik II.
Laika paid an enormous price to be the first dog in space. Over forty years after the fact, the BBC reported in 2002 that the Soviets had finally admitted that Laika did not live for five or six days and gently pass away as they had originally claimed. The reports confirm that she actually died within a few hours after going into orbit due to extreme heat conditions and a racing heart due to panic. There is a lot of detail in the BBC article if you would like to read it, but be forewarned that it is a disturbing report.
The Russians have set up a memorial to Laika, and several countries have issued postage stamps to commemorate her sad place in history. Here is an example of one of the stamps issued in her honor. More information about Laika and the Space Race can be found on the NASA website.