The space race began in 1957, taking many countries by storm. It was a mad dash to see who could make it to space first, and which country could out-perform the other. However, after its unofficial end in 1975, the world slowly realized that many of the research and business practices that got us to the moon were highly unethical. One of the most tragic examples being Laika: The Space-Dog.
The Space-Dog’s Beginnings
When the Soviet Union decided they wanted to launch a manned ship into orbit, they realized they had no idea how to create a ship where a human could survive and return to earth. Therefore, they decided they would use animals to test ships for them. Enter Laika.
Kudryavka (Little Curly) was a sweet stray from the streets of Moscow. She, along with many other female strays, was selected by the Soviet Canine Recruiters for their small size and gentle temperaments. The dogs were then put through a series of tests to determine their obedience, passivity, and endurance. The selected canines would live in tiny pressurized capsules. At first, this was for days at a time, and then weeks. They checked their reactions to air pressure changes and loud noises that would occur during liftoff.
Prior To Liftoff
Finalists from these tests were fitted with sanitation devices at the pelvic area that would allow them to use the bathroom. Even so, they were very uncomfortable for the dogs. Most dogs would retain their bodily waste rather than use the device. However, some dogs learned to adapt. The final candidates were chosen to become the Sputnik 2’s canine cosmonaut.
Kudryavka was chosen as the finalist, and Albina was chosen as an alternate. Kudryavka was introduced to the public through radio. She was given the name Laika, which meant “barker.” Doctors performed surgery on Laika to implant a medical device that would monitor her heart rate, respiratory rate, physical movement and blood pressure.
Three days before her liftoff, Laika entered the tiny capsule with a sanitation device and a spacesuit with metal restraints. Her capsule only allowed for a few inches of movement. She was only given one meal for the entire trip and no way to return to earth.
Early in the morning on November 3rd, Laika’s ship was launched into space — the G-Force reaching five times the normal level.
Laika’s Tragic Flight
As Laika was flying towards outer space, the noise and pressure of flight horrified her. Her heart rate rose to triple the normal rate, and her respiratory rate was four times its normal rate. When she went through the heat shield, the temperatures in the ship rose. After reaching orbit alive, Laika soon died. She was cramped, overheated, hungry, and terrified.
Laika was not the first dog in space, nor was she the last. Thankfully, after her tragic death, several dogs were able to make it back alive and well. As tragic as Laika’s story is, her death allowed us to learn a lot about space travel. Soon after, mankind was successfully launched into space.
Laika also was one of the first cases that sparked concern about animal rights and cruelty. Since the Soviet Union sent Laika into space knowing they lacked the technology to send her back, Soviet Citizens protested this inhumane action. This garnered attention from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the British Society for Happy Dogs, and a group of dog enthusiasts who protested on the steps of the United Nations in New York. Her death helped transform the animal rights movement into what it is today.
Laika has been immortalized by pop culture all over the world. She has a statue at the Moscow Military Research Facility and a crater on Mars named after her. While space research facilities continue to test on animals, after Laika’s heartbreaking story, they only experiment if it’s possible for them to survive.
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