60 years ago in space

Laika, Russian cosmonaut dog, 1957. Laika was the first animal to orbit the Earth, travelling on board the Sputnik 2 spacraft launched on Nov. 3, 1957. The Soviet space program used dogs and other animals to ascertain the viability of later space travel. (Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

From the New Yorker;

On the evening of November 3, 1957, barely a month after the Soviet Union sent humanity’s first artificial satellite into orbit, a rocket lifted off from a secret site in Kazakhstan, carrying its second. The launch of Sputnik 2 was timed to coincide with the fortieth anniversary of the October Revolution, and the craft itself was an appropriately showy statement of Communist know-how—six times heavier than Sputnik 1, designed to fly nearly twice as high, and, most impressive of all, containing a live passenger. A week before the mission began, Moscow Radio had broadcast an interview with the cosmonaut in question, described as “a small, shaggy dog.” Western newspapers, however, were initially confused about what to call her. Introduced as Kudryavka (“Little Curly”), she was also known as Limonchik (“Little Lemon”) and Damka (“Little Lady”). A Soviet spokesman eventually clarified that her name was Laika (“Barker”), which did nothing to stop a columnist at Newsday from referring to her exclusively as “Muttnik.”

It kind of went like this:

Well, not really;

But the story of Laika had a dark lie at its core. In 2002, forty-five years after the fact, Russian scientists revealed that she had died, probably in agony, after only a few hours in orbit. In the rush to put another satellite into space, the Soviet engineers had not had time to test Sputnik 2’s cooling system properly; the capsule had overheated. It remained in orbit for five months with Laika inside, then plunged into the atmosphere and burned up over the Caribbean, a space coffin turned shooting star. Turkina quotes one of the scientists assigned to Laika’s program: “The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it. We shouldn’t have done it. We did not learn enough from the mission to justify the death of the dog.”

And this final word from Laika’s trainer:

Laika’s trainer, Adilya Kotovskaya, a Russian biologist, recently told Agence France-Presse of her remorse as she prepared to send Laika into space: “I asked her to forgive us and I even cried as I stroked her for the last time.”

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