Friday, November 2, 2007

Laika the Space Dog, 50th Anniversary: Sacrifice and Inspiration

Let us say a prayer of thanks to and in remembrance of Laika, a dog and the first being in orbit. Laika was the only passenger of Sputnik 2, the USSR spacecraft launched into orbit November 3, 1957.

Whenever I've thought of Laika, I imagine a small dog, looking out the window at an increasingly small earth, wondrous and melancholy. The truth is, Laika is perhaps our best known creature that truly gave her life for science. Her death intensified arguments about vivisection and animal rights and welfare. She was a street mutt, later endured extreme and rigorous training, and was the chosen one of three to die very restrained, alone, and afraid. It was not until decades after her death that the original scientists who worked with her admitted that no plans had been made for Laika's return to earth.

Much has been written about Laika, and just as much inspired by her life and death - literature, film, songs, band names, businesses, and innumerable ideas and dialogs. (One of my favorite movies is My Life as a Dog (Mitt Liv Som Hund), about a boy that likens himself to Laika - powerless and afraid.)

To read Animals as Cold Warriors: Missiles, Medicine, and Man's Best Friend on the U.S. National Library of Medicine web site, click on this link. To read more about Laika, click on this link at Wikipedia, or this link at NASA.

Laika, the dog that launched a thousand stories.

Photo courtesy National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI)

Just a quick update to this post: Laika was the first living being in orbit (which we call "space"); prior to her mission there had been several dogs in sub-orbit (technically, not "space"). I believe you can read more about it at the above NASA link. At any rate, dogs were first in space.

Update April 11, 2008

Read the Yahoo! News story Russia Opens Monument to Space Dog Laika. Though it doesn't show a photograph of the monument, the article mentions that it is of a rocket with a dog on top, and located near a military facility. In addition to news about Laika, there is also the following: "Several other dogs died in failed launches before the successful space flight — and safe return to Earth — of the dogs Belka and Strelka in August 1960."

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