When I was a little girl I learned about Laika, the dog the Russians put into space on this date in 1957, seven years before I was born. All I really heard about her was that she died up there, and I imagined her little doggy skeleton, still in the spaceship, going round and round the earth for all eternity. It really upset me. It still upsets me.
Little did I know there was even more to be upset about. For starters, those scientists never intended that she would survive. And her training was horrendous. To get her used to the idea of the confines of the capsule, they put her into smaller and smaller cages for as much as 20 days. Due to the stress she stopped urinating and defecating, and she became increasingly sick. She was also placed in centrifuges and in machines that mimicked the sound of the launch.
But all that “training” didn’t fully prepare her for the reality of it, apparently, because during the flight her heartbeat more than doubled and her respiration increased to 4 times its normal rate.
I often wonder about the type of scientists who were capable of such cruelty. They clearly became attached to her. They said she was quiet and charming. One of the scientists took her home to play with his children just before the launch. He wanted to do something nice for her, because he knew she was going to die. And someone kissed her just before closing the door of the craft. And yet they still sent her to her doom.
They kissed her, after putting her in a harness in a capsule so small she couldn’t turn around, attaching her surgically to cables, and fitting her with a urine bag.
For many years it was said that she died of oxygen deprivation about 6 days after launch. And the Russians tried to claim that they euthanized her with poison food. But in 2002 the truth came out. She barely lasted 6 hours. The temperature in the capsule went up to 104 degrees, and she died from the heat.
But the young me needn’t have worried about her skeleton. A little over 5 months after launch, Sputnik 2 burned up during its re-entry into the atmosphere.
Poor Laika. Rest in peace.