This year is the 50th anniversary of humanity's first step on the moon. But here at Wamiz we prefer to honour the planet’s first true ambassador to outer space: Laïka the dog, who went up in a shuttle 12 years before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.
By, 30 Jul 2019
It was November 3, 1957 when the little dog Laïka made her fantastic voyage aboard the Sputnik II.
In the short term Laïka was but a pawn in the petty squabbles of the Cold War. But in the bigger picture, it was Laïka who showed us that Earth creatures might prosper in space – even if she suffered her own gruesome, heroic death in the process.
Stray dog in space
The world’s first astronaut is thought to have been a Husky-Terrier crossbreed. She was found wandering the streets of Moscow and spotted at the shelter by Soviet space agents, who drafted her into their shuttle program.
Laïka weighed just six kilos. She was obedient and open yet tenacious in her character. She had survived the mean streets of Stalin’s Russia, so she had what it would take to cope in zero-G and potentially make peace with space aliens.
During training, the plucky street dog was made accustomed to smaller and smaller spaces to simulate the tightness of her own private spacecraft. Although it was hard work, Laïka applied herself commendably. Did she sense the importance of her mission, or was this the work ethic of a hungry dog who could not bear to be sacked from the space squad?
Fate of the Space Dog
Although Laïka was equipped with the most high-tech equipment of the day, ultimately hers was a one-way trip to the unknown.
She flew in a spacesuit tooled-up with heartrate- and blood pressure-sensors, which immediately revealed just how nervous she was about the trip. Despite her cool exterior, Laïka’s heart beat at triple its normal rate as she prepared for lift-off.
“I asked her to forgive us, and I even cried as I stroked her for the last time,” biologist Adilya Kotovskaya later recalled.
But when Laïka made it into orbit, she seemed to relax. Perhaps looking down on the big blue tennis ball we call Earth helped her put things in perspective.
The plan was for Laïka to enjoy her space holiday for a week or more. She was then expected to eat a ‘humane’ poisoned last meal, to spare her the stress of re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere.
"Of course, we knew she was destined to die on the flight,” said Kotovskaya, “since there was no way to get her back—this wasn't possible at the time.”
But the space din-dins of death went uneaten.
Laïka circled her home planet eight times, but on the ninth orbit her poorly-insulated capsule heated up to 41° C. She died from a combination of pressure, heat, and stress, after just seven hours as the furthest-flung inhabitant of Earth.
The Soviet press continued to report that the dog was doing just fine. Only in 2002 did news of her true fate emerge.
Laïka-dog, we salute you: you went for the longest walkies to satisfy the hubris of the daft Earth species we call Human.