First Mammal In Space?
When you think of the first human to orbit the Earth, who is the first to come to your mind? My guess is that it was Yuri Gagarin, the Soviet cosmonaut who successfully completed an orbit of the Earth on April 12, 1961 and the first human to journey into outer space.
However, there was a cosmonaut mammal who orbited the Earth before he did: a Russian dog named Laika. Laika was launched into orbit on November 3, 1957, and tested how safe it was for a human to travel into outer space. Unfortunately, it was a suicide mission for Laika as the technology for a safe return trip back to Earth was not there yet.
How Laika Got Enlisted
The Soviet Union had already launched the Sputnik (the world’s first ever satellite) into outer space and were eager to take it to the next level with the Sputnik 2 in order to beat the United States in the Cold War Space Race. Sending a live occupant, a dog, into orbit would further the Soviet lead over the United States.
Laika was a stray dog wandering the streets in Moscow, Soviet Union and was born in 1954. Soviet scientists wanted to select a dog from Moscow to be the occupant of the Sputnik 2 as it was likely that a dog who was a resident of Moscow would have undergone and gotten used to extreme cold and starvation. Laika was chosen for the Soviet spacecraft out of 10 other dogs due to her calm nature.
Prepare for Liftoff
Laika was a 3 year old female dog who weighed about 11 pounds (just under 5 kg). Before the journey, Laika was confined in tight cages for long periods of time where she became restless and restrained from defecating or urinating.
Laika was also placed into centrifuges that replicated the environment of a rocket launch. Laika’s pulse and blood pressure increased significantly during the simulated launch. This was the first time a living thing would be sent into orbit and it was not completely known how a body would react to being inside the rocket launch and the extreme conditions in outer space.
Before Laika was sent into outer space to never come back, one member of the Soviet space program brought Laika home and his children played with Laika before her space mission. This was her last day of freedom before her journey of no return. Laika was a good dog, he said.
If you like where this story is going, check out part 2!