Wandering on the streets of Moscow, Laika was, by coincidence, chosen to be a part of the space mission that was destined to change the scientific outlook of man towards space. Laika―that is the name of the dog that became the first animal to be launched into space in 1957. Earlier, there were numerous dogs that were used in rocket missions. However, those flights were restricted to certain altitudes, and did not extend to the orbital level.
A Space Odyssey or a Regret?
The great canine cosmonaut, Laika, was launched for the space mission in Sputnik 2 on November 3, 1957. The world had already witnessed the launch of world's first satellite, Sputnik 1, in October 1957. This series of events soon gained worldwide popularity, as they were significant steps towards human space missions. Laika, called Kudryavka in Russian, meaning Little Curly-Haired One was the first dog in space. In fact, if we exclude microorganisms, Laika was the first living creature to be sent into orbit! Besides Laika, two other dogs also underwent training for survival in the tough conditions of a space shuttle, however, Laika was selected for the mission. The reason behind choosing dogs was that, scientists believed, dogs could endure inactivity better than other animals. Females were chosen, because the female dogs did not have to lift their legs to urinate and so it, in some way, suited the space missions!!
When it was announced, a few days after the launch of Sputnik 2, that Laika only had 10 days of food and oxygen to survive, there was public outrage and the Russian space agency was criticized for being inhumane. Unfortunately, Russian authorities declared Laika dead on the fourth day of the mission. Since then, there have been debates about animal testing and its efficacy. Another controversy regarding the death of Laika came into the limelight in 2002, when Dimitri Malashenkov ,of the Institute for Biological problems in Moscow, came up with some shocking revelations. He revealed that Laika didn't die after four days of the mission; in fact, she lost her life just a few hours after the craft took off. Dr. Malashenkov's report suggested that the dog died due to overheating and stress as a result of the fast speed.
The scientific community still regrets the death of Laika. That is evident in the message of Oleg Gazenko, a scientist working with Soviet animals in the space program. He stated, "The more time passes, the more I'm sorry about it. We shouldn't have done it. We did not learn enough from this mission to justify the death of the dog."
Laika's small spacecraft (508 Kg) remained in orbit for 162 days and circled earth nearly 2770 times before it burned up. Was it fate, or poor vision of the scientific community? Was sending Laika into space without ensuring her safety a right step? These are some of the questions that will always haunt scientists. Laika's statue has been installed outside Moscow's military research facility, where her flight team prepared the original space mission in 1957.