The First Animal in Orbit
Meet the mutt who was the first animal to travel into orbit
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.