Many of you have heard of the name “Laika” (which means “barker” when translated to English), the iconic Soviet space dog who was the first living being to be sent into space. But probably very few of you would know where Laika came from, how she was chosen, and what she symbolizes today.
In the beginning of the Cold War, the United States and Russia were competing in the so-called space race, a series of research and experiments on developments in outer space. The question of sending humans into space started to take center of scientific discussions; without progress however, it was agreed to be too dangerous. That is why it was decided that a dog was going to be used to test the physical effects of space travel on a living being.
Laika was found on the streets of Moscow and was selected to undergo training with two other dogs for what is today one of the most iconic space missions. Russian scientists decided to select only stray dogs, as they thought such creatures had better resistance to cold and hunger. The scientists developed an instant liking to Laika. She was given many sweet nicknames: Kudryavka (curly one), Zhuchka (little bug), and Limonchik (little lemon). These only signify that she was a calm and well-mannered dog.
Laika’s true pedigree is unknown, although it is believed that she had mainly terrier and husky pedigree origins. One of the leading scientists of the program recalled Laika as a quiet and charming dog. After a long period of training, Laika was finally chosen as the “flight dog,” the would be occupant of the Sputnik spacecraft that was launched on the 3rd of November, 1957. She died within hours after the launch due to overheating.
Even though Soviet scientists knew that there was no chance for Laika to survive, this crucial and unethical act on an animal did not raise many eyebrows at the time of the mission. The press was focusing on the never-ending space battle between the US and Russia, and therefore reported news only from a political perspective. Laika’s courageous dedication to the scientists’ work was celebrated by the Soviet Union as another step into sending humans into space safely, completely ignoring the fate of the dog.
The world started questioning and scrutinizing the actions of Russian scientists only almost 50 years later. Laika’s fatal voyage sparked a worldwide debate on the mistreatment of animals and animal testing. In 1998, Oleg Gazenko, one of the scientists responsible for the experiment, expressed his regret about what happened to Laika:
“Work with animals is a source of suffering to all of us. We treat them like babies who cannot speak. The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it. We shouldn’t have done it.”
A statue of the now iconic space dog Laika was built in 2007 on the military research facility in Moscow. Regardless of the regret or the monuments dedicated to the little dog however, this space mission never offered, nor will it ever offer, a rational justification for such an inhumane act on one of man’s best friends. What is obvious is that Laika will always remain in people’s hearts as one small yet brave dog, a charming character who was therefore meant to suffer and give up her life for the sake of humans.
Information and images for this article were sourced from Wikipedia.