Today, November 3rd, is the anniversary of the flight of the first animal to orbit the Earth. It was a Russian dog named Laika aboard Sputnik II in 1957.
(image source: http://www.zarya.info/Diaries/Sputnik/Sputnik2.php)
I always have mixed feelings about this anniversary because the story of Laika is ultimately a sad one, as she survived only about 4-5 hours once in orbit (which was not the original story told). Laika was a friendly stray mixed-breed dog that was trained to withstand the ordeal of flying into space. She was progressively moved into smaller and smaller cages to acclimate her to the small size of the space capsule. She was trained in a centrifuge to withstand the multiple g-force of launch and also experienced weightlessness in her training. She was a very brave dog.
The idea was that the data gained from her “sacrifice” would help scientists better understand how to put humans into orbit and beyond. In the end, they didn’t learn all that much from her short trip into space. It was really more of a propaganda stunt than anything else. The launch was sped up in order to align with a Russian anniversary. If given more time (the appropriate amount of time for that kind of endeavor), more care could have been taken in designing the living compartment for Laika, ensuring that it wouldn’t overheat, and allowing for a return back to Earth.
I named my dog after her partly because I have always been fascinated with space and space flight, but also because the two dogs had a lot in common. They both were mixed-breed dogs, on the small side, that were unwanted (I got my Laika from a shelter). They also both had unusual curly tails (Laiks’s original name was Kudryavka – meaning “little curly”) and expressive ears.
Adopting Laika over four and a half years ago was one of the best things I’ve ever done. She is such a wonderful dog and makes me happy every single day.
The original Laika’s story is sad, but I think that it also helps remind us that sometimes there are trade-offs when we try to do new things. And perhaps it is best to take our time with science, in order to show more care to animals. This doesn’t necessarily mean to not use animals in science, just that we should always weigh the benefits and losses and try to find ways to minimize undue suffering, like Laika’s.