Krem­lin cov­ered up truth of Laika’s death

The Sunday Post (Dundee) - - Relax - By Alan Shaw MAIL@SUNDAYPOST.COM


have al­ways been con­spir­acy the­o­ries re­gard­ing the death of Yuri Ga­garin.

Was the first man in space killed in a plane crash be­cause he’d be­come too pop­u­lar with the Soviet peo­ple?

And it turns out the Krem­lin was eco­nom­i­cal with the truth re­gard­ing the fate of one of Ga­garin’s pre­de­ces­sors in or­bit – the ca­nine cos­mo­naut Laika.

On Novem­ber 3, 1957, the lit­tle mon­grel be­came the first an­i­mal to or­bit the Earth aboard Sput­nik 2 as sci­en­tists in­ves­ti­gated whether a liv­ing crea­ture could sur­vive blast-off and mi­cro­grav­ity.

They chose to use Moscow strays as it was as­sumed such an­i­mals had al­ready learned to en­dure con­di­tions of ex­treme cold and hunger.

The tech­nol­ogy to “de-or­bit” a space­craft had yet to be de­vel­oped, so it was very much a one-way mis­sion and Laika was never ex­pected to sur­vive.

One of the boffins took her home to play with his chil­dren, ad­mit­ting: “Laika was quiet and charm­ing. I wanted to do some­thing nice for her as she had so lit­tle time left to live.”

And a tech­ni­cian pre­par­ing the cap­sule for lift-off said: “After plac­ing Laika in the con­tainer and be­fore clos­ing the hatch, we kissed her nose and wished her bon voy­age, know­ing that she would not sur­vive the flight.”

It was an­nounced by the Soviet regime that the dog had been eu­thanised by poi­soned food be­fore her oxy­gen ran out, though they quickly changed their story to claim she’d died from oxy­gen de­ple­tion on day six of the flight.

How­ever, in 1999, sev­eral Rus­sian sources – in­clud­ing sci­en­tists from the Sput­nik pro­gramme – re­vealed that be­cause the satel­lite had failed to sep­a­rate from its rocket booster, the heat­ing con­trol sys­tem had failed.

Their pas­sen­ger had in fact died from over­heat­ing when the cabin reached 104°F on its fourth or­bit, with no signs of life after seven hours into the mis­sion.

At the time in the UK, the Na­tional Ca­nine De­fence League called on dog own­ers to ob­serve a minute’s si­lence and the RSPCA re­ceived protests even be­fore Ra­dio Moscow had fin­ished an­nounc­ing the launch.

An­i­mal rights pro­tes­tors demon­strated out­side sev­eral Soviet em­bassies.

But be­cause of the Cold War and the Space Race, the eth­i­cal is­sues of send­ing an­i­mals to their death were largely ig­nored in the USSR.

Only in 1998 did Oleg Gazenko, one of the sci­en­tists in­volved, say: “Work­ing with an­i­mals is a source of suf­fer­ing to all of us.

“We treat them like ba­bies who can­not speak. 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.”

My name is Laika . . . the first dog in space met a tragic end

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