Continued where we left off in part 2.
A quick recap of the previous part, a Russian dog named Laika was chosen to be placed in the Soviet spacecraft Sputnik 2 during the Cold War Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union. Being the first country to send a living thing into orbit would further the Soviet Union’s lead over the Western allies in the Space Race.
Unfortunately, Laika was the sacrificial lamb in the operation the Soviet scientists did not plan any sort of recovery mission for her. Immediately after the launch commenced, Laika’s heart rate shot up to 240 beats per minute and it took three hours for her heart rate to return back to her normal 102 beats per minute. Laika’s small chamber also overheated due to part of the nose cone (Block A) failing to separate from the spacecraft.
Approximately six hours into the flight, Laika showed no more signs of life. Laika had died due to overheating. Even if Laika survived throughout this part of the flight, she would have died on the Sputnik 2’s re-entry back to Earth. The Soviet scientists were fully aware that her death was inevitable.
On November 3, 1957, Laika went down as not only the first dog, but also the first life-form to orbit Earth. The Sputnik 2 shattered five months later on April 14, 1958 on its way back to Earth.
Was Laika a Hero?
While the Sputnik 2 was an important test for the Soviet Union and the predecessor to Yuri Gagarin (who followed in Laika’s steps and became the first human to orbit Earth on April 12, 1961), the Western allies criticized the Soviet Union for killing an innocent stray dog. Some see the Sputnik 2 mission as a super sad story for Laika.
Notably, the British opposed the rocket launch. Many in Great Britain were opposed to hunting and killing animals for the sake of human benefit. The RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and the British Society for Happy Dogs were against the way the Soviet scientists were using Laika. Many in London were outraged at the Soviets, rather than praising the Sputnik 2 as a successful mission.
The Russians responded that they love dogs and that this was done for the sake of humanity, rather than cruelty. The Russians hailed Laika as a hero who sacrificed herself for the sake of her country and humanity. The Russians created a statue of Laika, the first mammal to orbit Earth, in Star City, Russia.
The Soviet Union continued to launch dogs into space 71 times from 1951 to 1966, but unlike Laika’s case, they all had at least some chance of survival. Only 17 of these 71 had died.