"Laika was a stray dog, and on November 3rd, 1957, became the first living creature to be launched out of Earth’s atmosphere. Riding in a tiny Soviet-built satellite dubbed Sputnik 2, she was plugged into an array of sensors meant to measure the effects of space travel on a living organism.

The voyage wasn’t a pleasant one. Due to a technical problem the temperature in the satellite’s cabin began to climb and eventually rose to well over one hundred degrees. Heat, and what I imagine was the terror of weightlessness, caused untold stress. Some seven hours after launch, the planet’s first space traveler died Sputnik 2 continued to orbit the Earth for five more months before finally disintegrating in the atmosphere, destroying every piece of the satellite along with Laika’s remains.

Interestingly enough the truth about Laika’s journey was covered up by the Soviet Union. Fearful that the canine’s premature death, along with the technical problems experienced on Sputnik 2, might make the Russian space program appear weak, party officials claimed that the launch had gone perfectly according to plan. Officially it was reported that Laika had lived for several days and was then later euphonized.

At the time of the launch there was of course no discussion on the ethical issues involved.

Laika is barely a footnote in history. The space race went on and in 1969 when a man actually walked on the moon, those first steps were largely forgotten.

This bizarre and strangely poignant moment in human exploration is remembered today by a small memorial in Moscow. Laika is immortalized in bronze for being the first living creature to travel in space, and the first living creature sent there expressly to die."


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