Beyond the Textbooks

Laika – Space Dog

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Laika, space dog, inside a cabin similar to the launched one. Photo Credit: Alexander Chernov/Virtual Space Museum/NASA

Laika, space dog, inside a cabin similar to the launched one. Photo Credit: Alexander Chernov/Virtual Space Museum/NASA

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, which became the first satellite to circle earth. About a month later, on November 3, 1957 Sputnik 2 launched carrying in it the first living creature to orbit the earth – a dog named Laika.

By training and orbiting the small female dog, scientists wanted to experiment whether a human body could withstand the pressure of space flight.

Laika was one of several stray dogs, the Soviet space program trained for the space experiment. They purposely wanted stray animals because they believed these dogs were able to survive and adapt to harsher situations better than non-strays.

Because very little was known about space travel at that time, there was no re-entry plan for Laika and her space trip most certainly meant death.

Official Soviet documents state that after a week in space, Laika was humanely euthanized. Animal rights associations called the official documents false and said that Laika had starved to death. The truth came out after the collapse of the Soviet Union. While Laika was supposed to be euthanized, she actually died after a few hours in orbit because of overheating and fear.

The Soviet space program continued to experiment with dogs in space and the outcome was the same until August 19, 1960. Two dogs, Belka and Strelka, along with a rabbit, 40 mice, 2 rats, some plants and flasks of fruit flies were launched on Sputnik 5. They spent a day in space and all animals, insects and plants returned safely. In 1961, Strelka (which translates to “Little Arrow”) gave birth to six puppies. Nikita Khrushchev gave one of the puppies to President John F. Kennedy’s daughter Caroline as a gift.

In April 2008, Russian opened a monument in honor of Laika and her contributions to the space program. The small monument, of a dog standing on a rocket, is located in Moscow and near a military research facility.

Further Reading
Associated Press, “Russia opens monument to Laika, first dog in space,” The Boston Herald, April 11, 2008. Found online here.
Tara Gray, “A Brief History of Animals in Space,” August 2, 2004. Found on NASA’s website.
New York Times, “Laika A U.N. Issue, Uruguayan Says She Starved – Soviet Aide Denies It,” November 21, 1957.
Associated Press, “Traveler in Space: A Little Russian Hunting Dog,” New York Times, November 4, 1957.

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  • peabody

    how very sad about Laika…but I guess when looking back she contributed a lot to the space program in knowledge. May her spirit ride on and on and on….

    • http://historybyzim.com Zim

      It is really sad her fate was not better for all the knowledge and insight that she gave.

    • Neil

      CRUEL

  • sam

    it is sad

  • Pingback: LOS PRIMEROS ANIMALES EN EL ESPACIO | CON EL GEN ERBB4()

  • pamela

    very sad about laika and I know she is with the lord now and is very happy and healthy. she is running free and having the last laugh at the space people!

    • http://historybyzim.com Zim

      Laika’s story is indeed a sad one Pamela! I like to think she is in a better place too.

  • Gir

    Wow that is sad

    • http://historybyzim.com Zim

      It is. Animals being used in scientific experiments is a sad thing.

  • emma

    i think it was stupid to send a dog up in space

    • http://historybyzim.com Zim

      I suppose it did show them that a living thing can survive but I, personally, would never do such a thing.

    • Neil

      Whoever came up with the idea should have gone instead. That poor doggy who trusted these people. Look at laika the sorry truth or the sad truth on youtube

      • http://historybyzim.com Zim

        I agree!

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