In August I posted about Belka and Strelka, the Russian dogs who on August 19, 1960 where the first canines to survive orbital space flight. Belka and Strelka where not the first canines in space though, they were proceeded by Laika, a Russian street mutt whose name meant "Barker." Laika has the distinction of being the first living creature to enter orbital space flight.
Laika was trained along with two other dogs by Russian scientists during the Space Race. At the time no one was sure what the impact of orbital space flight and weightlessness would be on living creatures. No one felt confident enough to send a human into Space. For that reason many countries, not just Russia, sent animals into space. The US sent monkeys and mice and France sent a cat. Laika was also not the first Russian dog involved in the Space race, between 1951 and 1952 Russia launched several dogs in rockets into sub-orbital flight and the dogs where retrieved via parachutes. However, Laika was the first dog to make orbital flight.
When Laika was launched into Space on November 3, 1957 there was no plan to retrieve her rocket, Sputnick 2. The Russians used dogs in space research because they are easily trainable and enjoy human contact, as a result the scientists likely grew fond of Laika. Some stories say that in the face of her iminent death one of the scientists brought Laika home to play with his children. Sadly, Laika died a few hours after her launch. Some reports state that she died of overheating and others that she died from eating poisonous food that had been put on board with the intention of euthanizing her,
There was some controversy at the time of Laika's death with animal rights groups protesting at Russian Embassies. However most Scientists, including US Scientists, supported the Russian's decision to use Laika. In 1998 one Russian scientist, Oleg Gazenko, did express regret about the experiment saying:
"Work 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 this mission to justify the death of the dog."
Laika's mission may have cost her her life but her role in ushering the era of space exploration has not been forgotten. In 1959 a Romanian stamp with Laika on it was issued
|Image from Wikipedia|
It reads "Laika, first traveler in the Cosmos."
Laika also appears in the Moscow monument "Conquerors of Space" which was erected in 1964.
During the Mars Exploration Rover mission scientists named a soil target on Mars after Laika:
|image from Wikipedia|
In April of 2008 Laika got the biggest honor of all, her own monument in
Not bad for a 13 lb street mutt who died 54 years ago.