60 years ago today, a Soviet street dog became the first animal to orbit Earth
Sputnik-2 or: Laika, our hero
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Once you get past the stratosphere, it’s not so bad.
I’m commander of Sputnik-2.
Growing up on the streets of Moscow, I could only look to the heavens and wonder.
To be the first in space is an accomplishment I never dreamed about. I do this in the name of the motherland. In the name of Comrade Lenin…Comrade Khrushchev…in the name of the party… And, in the name of sausage.
I am Laika.
This isn’t a happy story. But it’s my story. And, there’s little time to tell it.
From three dogs — Albina, Mushka, myself — I was selected for this mission.
What set me apart? My ability to withstand the centrifuge tests, my superior aptitude to sit and eat and go to the bathroom in a small cabin and even smaller spacesuit. Also, Albina just had a litter of puppies.
But the mission was rushed. After the glorious launch of Sputnik-1, Comrade Khrushchev wanted another success to commemorate the 40th anniversary of our triumphant Bolshevik Revolution. But that gave us only a month. The temperature control system was hastily designed. And… there was no time for a recovery plan to bring me home.
When Sputnik-1 launched, its signal was heard around the world. On Sputnik-2, the signal of my heartbeat is only heard by Soviet scientists.
During the launch, the telemetric sensors said my heart rate was three times as fast. The g-forces caused my respiratory rate to increase five fold. Then, my heart slowed. In zero gravity—in space—my breathing is slower and deeper.
I am alive!
While I orbit the Earth, information of respiration, blood pressure, heart rate, even my movements in the weightless cabin are constantly transmitted back. So, I am alone, but I am not alone. My comrades can hear me.
And I orbit… But, this is a one way mission.
By the second orbit, it’s getting so hot. There was clearly a miscalculation in thermodynamics. The cooling fans are useless. I know my comrades tried. I know they are there.
I orbit for a third time. Through the small window, I can see Earth. I’m not sure where the motherland is. I am a dog afterall.
It’s my fourth orbit—maybe five hours since I entered space. It’s so hot. I feel like I can’t breath. The telemetric sensors have failed.
I look at Earth out the window.
Archive: This is the dog, Laika. It had been trained to live in a special container. The apparatus, test animal, and power sources on the Sputnik weighed half a ton.
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