May 30, 2024

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5 tragic facts about Laika the dog

5 tragic facts about Laika the dog

On November 3, 1957, the Soviet Union launched a rocket carrying the Sputnik 2 satellite from a secret location in the steppes of Kazakhstan. This was one of many launches in which the United States and the Soviet Union tried to outdo each other in the period leading up to the first landing on the moon. But this launch wasn't just any launch. There was a live passenger aboard the four-metre-high aluminum cone: Laika the dog.

Laika had no idea that she was about to become the first living organism to orbit Earth. The two to three year old dog was clearly terrified. Her breathing became rapid and her heart beat several times faster than usual as she raced away from the Earth's crust. But where did this alien dog come from? How was she trained for her mission? How did it end for her? Five tragic facts about space dog Laika.

1. Laika was an idiot

      Laika was wandering the streets of Moscow when she was picked up by Soviet investigators. She was not the first dog to be used on a space mission: scientists believed that dogs would be better able to withstand stressful situations. Laika was also not the first dog in space, but she will be the first dog to be placed in orbit around Earth.

      Laika was trained for this mission along with other space dog candidates. The tetrapods spent time in centrifuges to test how they responded to large gravitational forces and were exposed to the sounds they might hear during launch. They also had to get used to eating food in gelatin form, as it would be served in space.

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      2. Laika had to train in small cages

      Sputnik 2 barely offered any room to move. This is one reason why many space dogs are female: since the female dog does not raise her paw when urinating, she takes up less space. To prepare for its flight in the cramped Sputnik 2 spacecraft, Laika was trained to live in a small space in the weeks leading up to launch. The researchers placed the female dog in smaller cages and left her there for up to 20 days.

      3. The hasty launch was fatal

      The original plan was for Laika to return to Earth alive. But the fact that Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev decided that the launch should coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Russian Revolution confused matters. Suddenly, researchers had just four weeks to build a spacecraft that could carry a living creature into space. They managed to do so, but there was not enough time to ensure that the passenger returned alive.

      4. Lies about Laika's death

      During the launch of Sputnik 2, it was already clear that Laika would not survive the flight, but the details surrounding her death remained unclear for a long time. The Soviet regime initially announced that Laika died on her sixth day in space after eating a portion of poisonous dog food. This would have gone according to plan, to prevent her from dying a painful death from lack of oxygen.

      Wikimedia Commons

      Laika received hero status posthumously. It is depicted here on a Roman postage stamp.

      Only decades later did it become clear how the dog really met his end. Dmitry Malashenkov, one of the scientists involved in the mission, admitted in 2002 that the dog died a few hours after launch due to stress and overheating: air conditioning problems caused the temperature in Sputnik 2 to rise to more than forty degrees Celsius. Laika had likely completed about four orbits around the Earth at the time of her death.

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      5. The mission yielded little knowledge

      Although Laika was posthumously granted hero status in the Soviet Union, there was criticism of the way the dog was treated. Her death was unnecessary and did nothing to advance our scientific knowledge. Years later, Oleg Gazenko, one of the co-researchers, said: “The more time passed, the more guilty I felt.” We shouldn't do this. This mission did not yield enough results to justify the dog's death.

      Headshot of Mirth Brains

      Myrthe Prince has been working as a journalist for more than ten years – she has written travel stories for Traveler magazine, been a correspondent for PZC and interviewed many researchers for her science column in National Geographic magazine. In addition to her work as an online editor, she writes poetry and prose, learns new languages, and helps her team escape escape rooms.