the first animal in space

that orbited the earth

In this month’s edition of Creature Companion, we have decided to pay tribute to Laika, the stray dog who gave her life for humanity. This husky-spitz mix was the one of the first animals to ever go to space, and made history by orbiting the Earth in Sputnik 2 in 1957.

Laika and 2 other dogs were chosen for the mission as the scientists assumed that strays would have already learned to adapt to harsh conditions, after staying on the cold streets of Moscow. The dogs were trained for space travel by being kept in small cages and eating a nutritious gel which would be their meals in space. Eventually, the team chose Laika for the mission, due to her sweet temperament, small size, and docile nature. American reporters renamed Laika as Muttnik, as a pun on Sputnik.

As the impact of spaceflight on living creature was unknown at the time, and the technology to de-orbit had not been developed yet, so scientists never expected Laika to come back alive. As it was believed that humans would not be able to survive these harsh conditions, it was deemed necessary to use animals as the precursor to human-led missions. This mission was to prove that a living being could survive the journey to and in space, and paved the way for human space journeys by providing the necessary data on how living beings react in such situations.

The scientists expected Laika to die from oxygen deprivation—a painless death within 15 seconds—after seven days in space. However, this is not what happened on that fateful day of 3rd November 1957. She entered orbit alive, and circled the Earth in about 103 minutes. Unfortunately, the loss of the heat shield made the temperature in the capsule rise unexpectedly and rapidly, taking its toll on Laika. She died soon after launch.

This mission sparked waves of conversation across the globe about the mistreatment of animals for the advancement of science. The National Canine Defence League in the United Kingdom asked all dog owners to observe a minute’s silence, and the RSPCA received numerous protests before Radio Moscow could even finish announcing the launch of Sputnik 2. Many animal rights groups requested the public to voice their protests at Soviet embassies; others held rallies outside the United Nations in New York. The public stirred up many talks about animal experimentation in the field of science.

Today, Laika has been immortalized in our culture, with many works of literature, music, art, and even movies created for this brave little stray dog from Moscow. Decades later, we have reached far beyond what we thought was possible, and have Laika to thank. Dogs have gone to the stars for us, and as we keep Laika in our hearts, let us remember to thank man’s best friend for helping us along every path of life.

Just Dogs offers a tribute to
Laika - the world's first dog cosmonaut

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