Remembering Laika, the "Muttnik" Space Dog
Monday was the anniversary of the launch that put the space-faring dog named Laika into orbit. The launch made this dog the first animal ever to orbit the Earth, but it also eventually condemned the intrepid canine to death.
Laika, who was actually named Kudryavka, which means "Little Curly" in Russian, found herself in a prepared capsule of the Soviet Union's Sputnik-2 satellite on Nov. 3, 1957.
According to NASA's history archives, Laika was a small, stray mongrel picked up from the streets of Moscow. For this reason, the US media quickly dubbed her "Muttnik." She was hastily trained among 10 canine candidates, and several weeks later was being launched into space.
The purpose of this trip was to assess whether or not prolonged exposure to zero gravity would potentially harm humans - a very real concern that modern scientists are even today still struggling with, albeit with a different definition of "prolonged."
"The pressurized cabin on Sputnik 2 allowed enough room for her to lie down or stand and was padded," the National Space Science Data Center reported. "An air regeneration system provided oxygen; food and water were dispensed in a gelatinized form. Laika was fitted with a harness, a bag to collect waste, and electrodes to monitor vital signs."
After the spacecraft began to orbit the Earth, early telemetry indicated that Laika was agitated but otherwise healthy and eating her food. (Scroll to read on...)
Most of the experts involved in the Sputnik-2 program had felt that this was the ultimate honor for a mutt literally plucked off the streets.
However, some still felt a bit guilty about Laika's eventual return to Earth. Sputnik-2 was built less than a month after the Soviet Union put Sputnik-1, the world's first artificial satellite, into orbit. For this reason, the craft was ill-equipped for reentry, and was doomed to burn up in our atmosphere. It was planned for Laika to lose oxygen before that time.
According to The Associated Press (AP), Vladimir Yazdovsky, a doctor on the Sputnik-2 team, even took Laika to play with his children just before her launch.
"Laika was quiet and charming," he said. "I wanted to do something nice for her. She had so little time left to live."
However, Laika's eventual death was not in vain. According to NASA, the information gained from her mission paved the way for future space travel, assuring experts that mammals could indeed survive in zero-gravity conditions.
In 2008, on the 50th anniversary of Laika's unwitting sacrifice for space travel, Russian officials unveiled a monument to the dog who made history as the first animal to orbit the Earth.