What Happened To The Dog That Went To Space

Laika became the first-ever living animal that went into orbit when it took off aboard a Russian rocket on this day in 1957, but the pooch’s humane death was “greatly exaggerated”

The Space Race between the US and the Soviet Union was one of the biggest flashpoints during the height of the Cold War.

And it was the Soviets who were leading the way in space exploration after they successfully launched dogs into space (only for sub-orbital launches) and had launched the world’s first satellite in October 1957, the Sputnik 1.

When Laika’s vessel, the Sputnik 2, shot into orbit on this day 64 years ago (November 3, 1957), the USSR recorded another victory over their arch-rivals in the Space Race.

Laika was a stray that had been picked up from the streets of Moscow just one week before her space odyssey was set to begin – chosen partly due to her small size and her calm demeanour.

All of the 36 dogs that the Soviets sent into space – before Yuri Gagarin became the first human to make the journey in 1961 – were strays, chosen for their scrappiness.

The flight was meant to test the safety of space travel for humans, but it was a guaranteed suicide mission for the dog since the technology had not advanced far enough to make a return trip possible.

Although the Soviets had reassured the general public that her death would be humane, 45 years later in 2002 it was revealed by the BBC that these reports had been greatly exaggerated.

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Although the Soviets had long insisted the canine had died painlessly after a week in orbit, an official with Moscow’s Institute for Biological Problems leaked the truth that she had in fact died within hours of take-off due to panic and overheating.

The rocket continued to orbit the Earth for five months before burning up when it re-entered the atmosphere in April 1958.

Animal welfare organisations at the time expressed outrage that the Soviets had sent a dog into space.

The National Canine Defence League called all dog lovers to observe a minute’s silence for every day Laika was in space, while the RSPCA said it received calls of protest even before the Moscow Radio announcement of the launch had ended.

Media outlets around the world alternated between mockery and pity for the dog, with headlines such as “pupnik and pooch-nik, sputpop and woofnik”.

The Soviet embassy in London was forced to go into damage control mode, with a Soviet official saying: “The Russians love dogs… This has been done not for the sake of cruelty but for the benefit of humanity.”

One of Laika’s human counterparts in the USSR’s space programme referred to her as a good dog and mentioned how he brought her home to play with his children before she undertook her voyage.

Dr Vladimir Yazdovsky wrote in a book about Soviet space medicine: “Laika was quiet and charming. I wanted to do something nice for her. She had so little time left to live.”

In 1999, several Russian sources reported that Laika had died when the cabin overheated on the fourth orbit. In October 2002, Dimitri Malashenkov, one of the scientists behind the Sputnik 2 mission, revealed that Laika had died by the fourth circuit of flight from overheating.

Who was Laika the space dog?

Laika was a black-and-white mutt originally named Kudrayavka, or Little Curly. Her later name, which means Barker, came about when she barked during a radio interview. (In the U.S. press, she was sometimes called Muttnik.) Laika weighed about 13 pounds (6 kilograms) at the time of her flight, according to NASA (opens in new tab).

Laikas launch pad to fame were the streets of Moscow. Soviet rocket scientists wanted to send dogs to space to better understand what launch, microgravity and other aspects of spaceflight might do to a human body. So they collected stray dogs, who they thought would be suitable scrappy. The contenders also had to be female (easier to rig up) and brightly colored (so video footage of them would be clearer).

From these, the rocket engineers selected the most obedient and those most tolerant of loud noises and air pressure changes. The researchers also subjected final candidates to test runs in small capsules — some lasting for weeks, according to Smithsonian Magazine (opens in new tab).

Laikas back-up was named Albina (White); rumors suggest that the Russian spaceflight engineers made Laika their first choice because they were more attached to Albina, who had recently had puppies.

Laika’s mission: Sputnik 2

Sputnik 1, which launched on Oct. 4, 1957, was a 184-lb. (83 kilograms), beach-ball-size sphere that basically just emitted beeps as it circled Earth, although those beeps shocked the world.

Sputnik 2 launched just a month later; according to one account (opens in new tab) of an interview with cosmonaut Georgy Grechko, who flew in the 1970s, the project was rushed to coincide with the anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution that eventually led to the Soviet Union.

The spacecraft was much larger and more elaborate than its predecessor. The spacecraft was 13 feet (4 meters) tall and 6.5 feet (2 m) at its widest, and it weighed 1,120 lbs. (508 kg), according to NASA (opens in new tab). The spacecraft carried scientific instruments to measure solar radiation and cosmic rays, as well as a cabin for Laika that was equipped with a video camera.

Laika could sit or lie down in the cabin, which was equipped with an air regeneration system and padding. Laika, decked out in a harness, a crude sanitation device and a set of electrodes, had access to food and water “in a gelatinized form,” according to NASA (opens in new tab). “The early telemetry indicated Laika was agitated but eating her food.”

Sputnik 2 was a suicide mission for the poor dog; the satellite was not designed to come safely back to Earth and the Soviet space program didnt want to delay the launch.

Telemetry data showed that Laika survived the launch, according to Anatoly Zak of RussianSpaceWeb.com. Initially, Soviet publications claimed that the dog died, painlessly, after a week in Earth orbit. But that account has been called into question over the years.

“Decades later, several Russian sources revealed that Laika survived in orbit for four days and then died when the cabin overheated,” Zak wrote (opens in new tab). “According to other sources, severe overheating and the death of the dog occurred only five or six hours into the mission.”

According to NASA (opens in new tab), the spacecraft may have overheated because the thermal control system didnt work properly and some insulation tore off due to an anomaly during the launch.

Sputnik 2s batteries died on Nov. 10, 1957, and the spacecraft stopped beaming data home.

“With all systems dead, the spacecraft continued circling the Earth until April 14, 1958, when it re-entered the atmosphere after 2,570 orbits (2,370 orbits according to other sources) or 162 days in space,” Zak wrote. “Many people reportedly saw a fiery trail of Sputnik 2 as it flew over New York and reached the Amazon region in just 10 minutes during its re-entry.”

With a pounding heart and rapid breath, Laika rode a rocket into Earth orbit, 2,000 miles above Moscow streets she knew. Overheated, cramped, frightened, and probably hungry, the space dog gave her life for her country, involuntarily fulfilling a canine suicide mission.

Eventually, the team chose the placid Kudryavka (Little Curly) as Sputnik 2’s dog cosmonaut and Albina (White) as backup. Introduced to the public via radio, Kudryavka barked and later became known as Laika, “barker” in Russian. Rumors emerged that Albina had out-performed Laika, but because she had recently given birth to puppies and because she had apparently won the affections of her keepers, Albina did not face a fatal flight. Doctors performed surgery on both dogs, embedding medical devices in their bodies to monitor heart impulses, breathing rates, blood pressure and physical movement.

Soviet engineers planned Sputnik 2 hastily after Premier Nikita Khrushchev requested a flight to coincide with November 7, 1957, the 40th anniversary of Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution. Using what they had learned from the unmanned and undogged Sputnik 1 and often working without blueprints, teams labored quickly to build a ship that included a pressurized compartment for a flying dog. Sputnik 1 had made history, becoming the first man-made object in Earth orbit October 4, 1957. Sputnik 2 would go into orbit with the final stage of the rocket attached, and engineers believed the ship’s 1,120-pound payload, six times as heavy as Sputnik 1, could be kept within limits by feeding its passenger only once.

Soon after the flight, the Soviet mint created an enamel pin to celebrate “The First Passenger in Space.” Soviet allies, such as Romania, Albania, Poland and North Korea, issued Laika stamps over the years between 1957 and 1987.

Space dog biographer Amy Nelson compares Laika to other animal celebrities like the Barnum and Bailey Circus’s late 19th-century elephant Jumbo and champion thoroughbred racehorse Seabiscuit, who lifted American spirits during the Great Depression. She argues in Beastly Natures: Animals, Humans and the Study of History that the Soviet Union transformed Laika into “an enduring symbol of sacrifice and human achievement.”


What happened to the dog they sent into space?

Laika, a Moscow street dog, became the first creature to orbit Earth, but she died in space.

Did Laika come back down?

She reached orbit alive, circling the Earth in about 103 minutes. Unfortunately, loss of the heat shield made the temperature in the capsule rise unexpectedly, taking its toll on Laika. She died “soon after launch,” Russian medical doctor and space dog trainer Oleg Gazenko revealed in 1993.

Where is Laika buried?

She reached orbit alive, circling the Earth in about 103 minutes. Unfortunately, loss of the heat shield made the temperature in the capsule rise unexpectedly, taking its toll on Laika. She died “soon after launch,” Russian medical doctor and space dog trainer Oleg Gazenko revealed in 1993.