Laika is known by all as “The Space Dog”. She was the first animal to orbit the Earth. The story of Laika is very emotional and heart-drenching. In the early days during the space war (Period when nations battled each other, to show superiority by hauling about successful space explorations) sending humans into space was a challenge. We did not know the properties and the ways space behaved and what happened when living beings were shot off into the orbit.
Hence the animals were chosen. Laika was a stray dog, used to roam in the streets of Moscow, Russia. That 3 years old creature, had no idea she would be chosen for this. She was of Russo-European breed.
Soviet Space Program (Космическая программа СССР) launched the first Russian satellite Sputnik 1 successfully. A golden victory. Contained no living being. After massive success, the Soviets stepped up to showcase their supreme power by yet another success.
The scientists and policy makers decided to send a dog into the space. Rocket engineers designed a special spacecraft to sustain Laika. In mere of 7 weeks the engineers designed the craft. It was made swiftly and carelessly. To contain in series it was named as Sputnik 2. Designed entirely for a dog, weighing 508 Kgs.
Surprisingly, no tests were tried on the rocket. The cabin consisted:
- An O2 generator
- A CO2 absorbers
- Cooling fan
- Food and water
- A bag to collect the bowel discharges.
The cabin was so small that Laika could not even move. Being a stray dog, she could bear cold environments and appetite with ease. Was different from other dogs being surprisingly calm and beautiful. After the selection, Laika was brought in for training. The cabin of Sputnik 2 was small. Therefore she was trained to stay in a small cage for 20 days!
After the training, she was ready to go. All the arrangements to send were finalised. But, humans back then did not knew how to bring back the stuff sent to space. It was known from the start, she would never come back.
One of the fellow scientists brought Laika home for a couple of days. She played with the his kids, happily. She was then shifted to the Sputnik 2 cabin, was put into chains inside the cage to restrict her movements. Stayed in there for 3 days straight!
3rd November, 1957. Last day on earth for Laika. All set to Launch. Hopes up, eyes frowned, heavy breathes and hundreds of eyes stared at the little creature staring back from the cabin window!
Before closing the cabin door, one of the scientists kissed Laika’s head and wished her by saying “Safe Journey (Безопасное путешествие)”. Laika was then launched off with Sputnik 2. She entered the space. Orbited the Earth. Voila!
But due to technical errors, one of the payload did not get detached from the rocket. The temperature increased rapidly. Laika’s heart rate variated from 103 to 240 BPM. The sensors stopped signal transmission. And sadly, she died after 5 hours of pain.
After that the Sputnik 2 stayed in space for 162 days. Revolved 2500 times around Earth with the floating carcass of Laika. On 14th April 1958, Sputnik 2 re-entered into the atmosphere and burned off into fire shots.
In 2008, a monument was raised in the name of Laika at the same spot where she was trained. The stone reads, “The Space Dog – Laika!”
Laika transformed the history. She’ll be remembered for this remarkable contribution throughout history. She might still be floating somewhere in that cloud of space debris. Staring at us with those big watery eyes, shaking her tail and expecting something to come up!
PS: Writing this wasn’t easy for me, emotionally. May she rest in the softest beds of the heavens. Dogs are people too!