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Anniversary of first dog in space

THIS MONTH sees the 50th anniversary of a very significant – albeit ultimately sad – event that defined the Space Race, when a Russian dog named Laika became the first living creature from to enter space orbit.

LaikaLaika, initially picked up as a stray in Moscow was selected as a suitable candidate as a ‘space dog’ by an official from the USSR’s Space programme. Originally named Kudryavka she was renamed Laika after her breed type. Laika was clearly a mongrel, was about 3 years of age and weighed around 6kg. Physically, she was ideal for the planned spaceflights, which would involve living creatures.

Three dogs were trained for the Sputnik 2 flight: Albina, Mushka, and Laika. Russian space-life scientist Oleg Gazenko selected and trained all the dogs with a rigorous regime of tests and behavioural conditioning. Laika was placed in the satellite at Baikonur Cosmodrome on October 31, 1957— three days before the start of the mission. The temperatures at the launch site were extremely cold at that time of year, so a hose connected to a heater was used to keep her container warm. Two assistant\s were assigned to keep a constant watch on Laika before launch. Her death was officially put down to oxygen starvation, though it was later learnt that stress was the biggest contributing factor.

On March 9, 2005, a patch of soil on Mars was unofficially named Laika by mission controllers. It is located near Vostok Crater in Meridiani Planum. It was examined by the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity's microscopic imager on Sol 400. Laika has been featured in numerous works of literature, often with a theme of her survival or rescue. A graphic novel written and drawn by British comic artist Nick Abadzis entitled simply ‘Laika’ was published earlier this month.