The first dog in space – Laika

The first dog in space, Laika (also known as “Muttnik” to Western media), was launched into orbit on November 1957. Little was known about the effects space had on life and it was determined that animals should go before humans in order to study them.

Laika’s space suit

Laika was a stray dog plucked from the streets of Moscow because it was thought stray animals used to the elements could more easily adapt to the rigors of space. Laika adapted to the small cages that mimicked the cramped area in her future space shuttle and nutrient-rich gel in place of food. Laika also underwent surgery to fit her with devices to measure blood pressure and other vitals.

Laika took to space on the Sputnik 2; however, there were problems. The equipment monitoring her showed she was stressed. The equipment meant to regulate temperature malfunctioned and Laika died from overheating within a couple hours of launch. This was due to the rushed construction of the Sputnik 2, built within a month. A few months later, the space shuttle carrying Laika’s remains returned to Earth and disintegrated upon reentry.

Scientists at the time knew Laika would not survive re-entry and some expressed regret at allowing the experiment to be conducted. There was some outrage in Western media though little existed in the Soviet media.

Monument to the Conquerors of space featuring Laika

The Monument to the Conquerors of Space in Moscow would honor Laika in 1964. Two other monuments in her honor would be raised — one at Russian Cosmonaut training facility in 1997 and one at military facility she trained at in 2008.