“Laika’s Trust” Part Two
I had already bemoaned the inhumane behaviour of cavalier Russian scientists in the late 50’s sending a dog into space with no way to bring her back. Now it seems they continue to whitewash things but at least she is remembered.
Look for “Muttnik: Laika’s Trust” my first post.
By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV – Associated Press Writer
MOSCOW(AP) Russian officials on Friday unveiled a monument to Laika, a dog whose flight to space more than 50 years ago paved the way for human space missions.
The small monument is near a military research facility in Moscow that prepared Laika’s flight to space on Nov. 3, 1957. It features a dog standing on top of a rocket.
Little was known about the impact of space flight on living things at the time Laika’s mission was launched. Some believed they would be unable to survive the launch or the conditions of outer space, so Soviet space engineers viewed dogs’ flights as a necessary precursor to human missions.
All dogs used in the Soviet space program were stray mongrel dogs _ doctors believed they were able to adapt quicker to harsh conditions. All were small so they could fit into the tiny capsules.
The 2-year-old Laika was chosen for the flight just nine days before the launch.
Stories about how she was selected varied: Some said Laika was chosen for her good looks _ a Soviet space pioneer had to be photogenic. Others indicated the top choice for the mission was dropped because doctors took pity on her: Since there was no way to design a re-entry vehicle in time for the launch, the flight meant a certain death.
“Laika was quiet and charming,” Dr. Vladimir Yazdovsky wrote in his book chronicling the story of Soviet space medicine. He recalled that before heading to the launch pad, he took the dog home to play with his children. “I wanted to do something nice for her: She had so little time left to live,” Yazdovsky said.
The satellite that carried Laika into orbit was built in less than one month after the Soviet Union put the world’s first artificial satellite into orbit on Oct. 4, 1957.
Due to last-minute technical problems, Laika had to wait for the launch in the cabin for three days. Temperatures were low, and workers heated the cockpit through a hose.
When Laika reached orbit, doctors found with relief that her heartbeat, which had risen on launch, and her blood pressure were normal. She ate specially prepared food from a container.
According to official Soviet reports, the dog was euthanized after a week.
After the Soviet collapse, participants in the project told the real story: Laika indeed was to be euthanized with a programmed injection, but she apparently died of overheating after only a few hours in orbit.
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.
After a few other flights with dogs, the Soviet Union put the world’s first human _ Yuri Gagarin _ into space on April 12, 1961.
Message from the First Dog in Space
Received 45 Years Too Late
HOUSTON, Tex. (USA) — Forty-five years and five hours ago, the first Earthling broke through the atmosphere and into space. It wasn’t a man, a woman or even a monkey; it was stray dog.
That much is public knowledge, but a secret that has been kept for 45 years was just released last week at the World Space Congress in Houston. “Laika”, the first astronaut of the planet Earth, died of fright just after take-off.
Hardly the starship Enterprise, Laika’s spacecraft was no bigger than a washing machine.
The report, presented by Dimitri Malashenkov of the Institute for Biological problems in Moscow, ended decades of speculation as to the fate of the great canine cosmonaut sent into space aboard Sputnik 2 on Nov. 3, 1957. Russian authorities had previously circulated reports that Laika survived in orbit for four days and then died when the cabin overheated due to a battery malfunction.
In reality, medical sensors recorded that immediately after the launch, as her capsule reached speeds of nearly 18,000 miles per hour (28,800km/h), her pulse rate increased to three times its normal level, presumably due to overheating, fear and stress. Five to seven hours into the flight, no further life signs were received from Laika.
Dr. Malashenkov’s report came as a huge surprise to the scientific community.
“The overheating story has been around,” comments Sven Grahn, a noted space historian. “But this, dead after five to seven hours, that was a shock to me.”
To Boldly Go Where No Mutt
Has Gone Before
Between 1957 and 1966, a total of 13 dogs were used in Soviet space flights, many of whom were recovered unharmed. Laika was the only one Russian scientists knowingly sent into space to die; the time frame under which Soviet technicians had to work did not allow for the development of a space craft that could sustain life during a long flight or survive a re-entry without burning up. Sputnik 2 had been conceived and built in just under four weeks at the urging of then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.
On the day of Laika’s voyage, the New York Times printed: “the Soviet Union claimed a victory over the United States.”
Many countries have issued commemorative stamps and postcards honoring the first dog in space.
A Few Facts About Laika
and Soviet Space Dogs…
Laika’s real name was “Kudryavka” (Little Curly). The world had difficulty pronouncing the word, so scientists nicknamed her “Laika”, which means “Barker” and is the Russian name given to dogs of her breed (she was a Husky mix). American newspapers dubbed her “Muttnik”.
Soviet space dogs were stray mutts gathered from the streets of Moscow and adapted in centrifuges that simulated the extreme G-forces of take-off.
Dogs were used because scientists felt that dogs could endure long periods of inactivity better than other animals. As part of their training, they were confined in small boxes for 15-20 days at a time.
Female dogs were chosen because they did not have to stand and lift a leg to urinate.
Other dogs in space sent by the USSR following Laika are: Otvazhnaya (Brave One), Snezhinka (Snowflake), Bars (Panther), Lisichka (Little Fox), Belka (Squirrel), Strelka (Little Arrow), Pchelka (Little Bee), Mushka (Little Fly), Damka (Little Lady), Krasavka (Little Beauty), Chernushka (Blackie), Zvezdochka (Little Star), Verterok (Little Wind), Ugolyok (Little Piece of Coal) and several unnamed dogs.
The first man in space was Major Yuri Gagarin aboard Vostok I on April 12, 1961, more than three years after the dogs paved the way.
The first woman in space was Valentina Tereshkova on June 16, 1963. The first female in space, of course, was still Laika.
It was not announced until after the launch that Laika only had enough food and oxygen to live for 10 days and that the spaceship would not return. The public was outraged. Similar debates on animal testing and the use of dogs in scientific experiments continue today.
“The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it. We shouldn’t have done it… We did not learn enough from this mission to justify the death of the dog.”
— Oleg Gazenko,
one of the lead scientists of the Soviet animals-in-space program -speaking at a Moscow news conference in 1998.
The First Communication from Intelligent Life in Space
Laika first said “hello” to the people of Earth on a radio broadcast, Oct. 27, a week before her historic flight. She barked into the microphone.
While in space, she transmitted a continual “beep-beep-beep” on a radio frequency that served as a tracking signal. Soon after launch, Sputnik 2’s transmitters failed and the signal ceased. After six days, all contact with the craft was lost.
Laika’s 1,120-pound (508-kilogram) capsule remained in orbit for a total of 162 days, circling the Earth 2570 times before burning up in the atmosphere on April 14, 1958. To anyone watching the sky at that time, she made her final statement as a tiny falling star in the night.