The First An­i­mal in Or­bit

Meet the mutt who was the first an­i­mal to travel into or­bit

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SHE was just a scruffy lit­tle mon­grel who lived on the streets of Moscow, cap­i­tal of the then Soviet Union, but she cap­tured hearts all over the world and be­came so fa­mous that to­day she has her own mon­u­ment.

But she had to pay a very, very high price for her fame . . .

It was 1957 and the Soviet Union was ahead in the Space Race (the com­pe­ti­tion be­tween the Soviet Union and the United States for supremacy in space­flight ca­pa­bil­ity). The Soviet Union had just suc­cess­fully launched Sput­nik 1, the world’s first satel­lite (an ob­ject that or­bits a planet or star). Next they wanted to send a per­son into space but they had no idea how safe it would be – could a hu­man sur­vive the in­cred­i­ble force and shud­der­ing launch of a space­craft? And what would the ef­fect of weight­less­ness be on the hu­man body?

So they de­cided to first send an­i­mals into space to test flight safety.

Laika was not the first dog in space, but she was the first dog to or­bit (cir­cle) Earth. She was found on the streets about a week be­fore she was due to liftoff and trained quickly – for in­stance, she had to learn to eat her gel-like food in space.

On 3 Novem­ber 1957 Laika, who weighed about 6 kg, was trans­ported into space in her own sealed cabin at­tached to the space­craft Sput­nik 2.

She was se­cured with a har­ness which al­lowed her some move­ment, she had ac­cess to food and wa­ter and a bag was at­tached to her to col­lect her waste. Elec­trodes were at­tached to her body which trans­mit­ted in­for­ma­tion about her heart rate, blood pres­sure and breath­ing back to Earth.

What hap­pened next is not quite clear. Ev­ery­one knew Laika would die dur­ing the flight – it was all ar­ranged so quickly en­gi­neers didn’t have time to de­sign a sys­tem that could bring her back safely. Across the world peo­ple were fu­ri­ous with the Sovi­ets for sac­ri­fic­ing the lit­tle dog, who in Amer­ica had been nick­named Mut­tnik.

At the time the Soviet Union claimed that af­ter four days, just be­fore her oxy­gen would run out, Laika was put to sleep and passed away peace­fully. But in 2002 the true story came out: she died within hours of launch from panic and over­heat­ing in tem­per­a­tures of about 40 °C.

In 2008 a mon­u­ment for Laika was erected in Moscow where she stands proudly on a rocket.

LEFT: The Laika mon­u­ment in Moscow was un­veiled in 2008.

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