“Laika was quiet and charming”
Dr. Vladimir Yazdovsky wrote in his book chronicling the story of Soviet space medicine. She was one of several dogs that gave their lives for the space race in the 1950s and ‘60s. The Soviet Union and the United States used test animals to figure out whether humans could survive outside of the earth’s atmosphere.
Table Of Contents
Where Did the Soviets Find Laika?
Why Did the Soviets Choose Laika?
What Breed Was Laika?
Why Was a Stray Dog the Best Fit for the Mission?
The Story Behind Her Name…
Why Did Soviets Send Dogs into Space?
Her mission : The First Living Creature to Orbit Earth
The Sputnik 2 Spacecraft
What Went Wrong?
How Did Laika Die? The Truth About Her Death
How Long Did Laika Live in Space?
Is Laika Still in Space?
How Did the World React to Laika’s Story?
Scientists in the Soviet Union collected stray dogs to use in their space program in the 1950s. Laika and five other female pooches came from the streets of Moscow before they started training for their missions. Researchers selected Laika for the Sputnik 2 project nine days before the launch date. This two or three-year-old pup was a good-natured, small gal who quickly won the hearts of the watching world.
Scientists used several types of animals to test survivability in space. After sending fruit flies, mice, rats, and rabbits into low-level orbits, the Soviets turned to dogs. Researchers in the Soviet Union had a history of canine testing, so it was natural for them to resort to these four-footed creatures to collect data that would help them create a space capsule fit for human beings.
“From three dogs — Albina, Mushka, myself — I was selected for this mission.”
But, why did they choose her over the other pups?
Nobody knows Laika’s breed for sure because she was a stray mongrel and DNA testing wasn’t available in the 1950s. Mongrel is a word used to describe a pup that has a mixture of breeds in its ancestry.
- Chow Chow
- Husky varieties
- Laika varieties
- Spitz varieties
“And (we chose) strays because they are more resourceful and less demanding.”These dogs, they expected, would be more resilient and better able to manage the challenges associated with launch and orbit. In the case of Sputnik 2, the launch was a one-way mission. The satellite was designed and built in less than a month, and there was not enough time to prepare it for safe re-entry. By using a stray pooch, the scientists would not be sacrificing someone’s furbaby for the space program.
In the 1950s, space was an unknown frontier. Neither the Soviets nor the Americans knew whether humans could survive outside of the earth’s atmosphere. Bill Britz, an American veterinarian who worked with chimpanzees that flew to space in the early 1960s, shared,
“We take for granted now that animals and humans can function in space, but back then we knew absolutely nothing.”
Before they launched a man into orbit, scientists from the United States used chimpanzees to decide whether people could stay alive in outer space. But the Soviets relied on canines for their space trials.
- They moved her into progressively smaller cages to get her used to the cramped quarters of the space capsule.
- They placed her in a centrifuge-style flight simulator that mirrored the G-forces associated with blast-off.
- They exposed her to noise levels like those she would experience on the mission.
- They fed her jellified food similar to the rations she would get in space.
“Of course we knew she was destined to die on the flight since there was no way to get her back”,said Kotovskaya. The space program scientists hoped Laika would live about 7 days before running out of oxygen. Then, the automated feeding system would give the food that contained poison to euthanize her humanely.
The Soviet’s Story
- Animal Rights groups in Great Britain campaigned to stop the launch. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals encouraged citizens to contact the Soviet Union’s embassy in London to voice their disapproval.
- The media chimed in with protest pieces.The Daily Mirror in Britain ran a story with the headline, “THE DOG WILL DIE, WE CAN’T SAVE IT”.
- Musical artists Wil Wagner and Kill Hannah wrote songs bemoaning Laika’s fate.
- The world’s response confused the scientists in the space program. The Soviets issued a statement:
“The Russians love dogs. This has been done not for the sake of cruelty but for the benefit of humanity.”
“The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it. We shouldn’t have done it. We did not learn enough from the mission to justify the death of the dog.”Today, space programs are more likely to use invertebrates like insects and worms for space research. Martin Barstow, director of the Leicester Institute of Space and Earth Observation shared,
“We’re a bit more alert to the nuances of whether or not you should test anything on animals these days.”
Romanian Laika Stamp: 1959
Laika’s mission paved the way for mankind to break the space barrier.