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Home > Dogs > Laika the Space Dog: Facts & the Sad Story of a Canine Hero

Laika the Space Dog: Facts & the Sad Story of a Canine Hero

Laika Postal Stamp Romania

Laika was a small mixed-breed dog that lived as a stray on the streets of Moscow. She would go on to become one of the most famous dogs in history and a modern-day hero. Unfortunately, Laika’s story does not have a happy ending. The story behind the very first space dog is a tragic one, based on a vibrant, beautiful little dog’s sacrifice for science and space exploration.


Laika the Space Dog

The Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union began in August 1955 and lasted for 20 years. During this time, there were many achievements by both countries surrounding space exploration, science, and technology.

While the United States was using apes as their test subjects, the Soviets were seeking out stray dogs to be sent into space for experimentation. They collected potential candidates off the streets because they were not likely to be missed. Little Laika was among those chosen for this history-making space mission.

At that point, no living creature had ever been sent to space and scientists needed a better understanding of the potential effects spaceflight could have on the human body, which is why they planned to first send a dog. After a lengthy process, one dog would be chosen to head into space aboard Sputnik 2 never to return alive.

How Was Laika Chosen?

The canine candidates for this spaceflight had to be small, brightly colored, and female. Lighter colored coats would be much easier to identify on video footage and females were much easier to rig up with the necessary equipment. The selection was also narrowed down to the dogs that were the most obedient and could tolerate loud noises and drastic changes in air pressure.

The tests to find the prime candidate were extensive and lasted weeks. The finalists were placed in small, pressurized capsules for days and even weeks at a time to undergo a variety of tests to simulate liftoff and the environment within the spacecraft. These dogs also underwent surgery to implant a monitoring device that could track their heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure, and movement.

A little 13-pound dog named Kudryavka, meaning Little Curly, was ultimately chosen to ride aboard Sputnik 2. The team also selected a runner-up, Albina as a backup. It was believed that Albina may have outperformed Kudryavka during the testing phases but was chosen as runner-up either because she had recently given birth or because she won over her keepers. Either way, this spared Albina from certain death.

Kudryavka was first introduced to the public during a radio show where she barked on air. It was later decided she would be named Laika, which translates to “barker” in Russian since she graced everyone with her voice. Laika was estimated to have been born in 1954, making her about 3 years old at the time.

Laika’s Trip to Space

The ill-fated little dog was taken home by one of her keepers named Vladimir Yazdovsky not long before her flight. He wanted to “do something nice for the dog” before she made the ultimate sacrifice. Some protests took place around the world concerning the animal cruelty aspects of this flight, but scientists urged the importance of the experiment.

Laika was launched into space aboard Sputnik 2 on November 3, 1955, at 5:30 a.m., just one month after the launch of Sputnik 1. Laika wore a harness and a crude sanitation device and was hooked up to electrodes for monitoring. According to NASA, she had access to food and water in gelatinized form. She was able to sit and lay down inside the cabin, which included padding and an air regeneration system.

Sputnik 2 was not designed to return to Earth’s atmosphere safely, which is why this was a suicide mission for the little dog. Laika was given enough food, water, and oxygen to last her 2,570 orbits around the Earth and would undoubtedly die when the craft re-entered Earth’s atmosphere.

Laika’s experience in orbit did not go as planned. Broadcasts revealed she was still alive as late as November 12, 1955, and the New York Times reported the possibility that she could be saved. After 9 days, however, Soviet news publications announced that Laika died a painless death while in Earth’s orbit.

It was later learned that this news had been falsified and the truth behind her death was much more tragic, though it would not be revealed until decades later.

What Happened to Laika?

The National Air and Space Museum possesses declassified printouts that showed Laika’s medical monitoring during the flight. It was noted that Laika quickly became terrified of the pressure and noise within the cabin, causing her heart rate to triple the normal rate at liftoff.

Dr. Oleg Gazenko, who was a Soviet medical doctor and trainer for space dogs, revealed in 1993 that Laika made it into orbit alive but the heat shield was lost shortly after launch, causing the temperature within the cabin to rise significantly, and unexpectedly.

It took Sputnik 2 approximately 103 minutes to fully circle the Earth and by the fourth orbit, the temperature within the spacecraft was registering at 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Laika succumbed to overheating. It’s believed that she likely did not survive much beyond one or two orbits and no more than 5 or 6 hours after liftoff.

divider-dogLaika the Hero Pup – Final Thoughts

Sputnik 2 continued to orbit the Earth for 162 days following Laika’s untimely demise. The craft re-entered Earth’s atmosphere in a ball of fire on April 14, 1958. The little hero Laika proved to the world that a living being could successfully be sent into space, thus continuing the Space Race between the two nations.

The first human being, Yuri Gagarin, also of the Soviet Union entered space in April of 1961 in the Vostok capsule. He successfully orbited the earth in 108 minutes and returned alive and well. While Laika’s story is heartbreaking, this precious dog made incredible history and her legacy will live on forever.

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Featured Image Credit: Shan_shan, Shutterstock

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