A little more than 60 years had passed since Sputnik-2 was launched. It maybe wouldn’t be so popular without its’ one and only passenger with the one-way ticket. Yup, that was Laika, and this is her story.
Space Race – The Beginning
Space race started, even during the WWII. As soon as it became obvious that the Allies will win the war they started the competition. It was not only for the territory, but also to grab the technology and scientists. Many German scientists, even those that committed crimes against humanity, were very desirable for both sides.
Some of the interesting technologies were jet-powered aircrafts like the Messerschmitt Me-262 fighter (Soviet MIG-15 and US F-86 Sabre share significant resemblance with a good reason) and the Arado Ar 234 bomber (once more, US B-45 and B-47 share resemblance) and V-1 and V-2 rockets (they served as the starting point for the US space program).
Operation Paperclip was the name of the US operation that happened from 1945 to 1959 with the goal to bring as many as possible Nazi scientist to the USA. The result was that more 1600 scientists, including leaders of the Nazi Party, continued their work in the USA. Maybe the most famous of them was Wernher von Braun, father of the V-2 rocket for Nazi Germany and Saturn V for the USA.
USSR (CCCP) also had special groups formed to recover technology and scientists from Germany. Although most Nazi scientists fled to the west in order to surrender to Americans (mostly because of the fear of revenge for unbelievable atrocities committed on the Eastern front) some of them stayed and collaborated with the Russians.
Space Race – The Culmination
After the first artificial satellite, Sputnik-1 was launched into the Earth orbit on 4 October 1957, the USA felt it was losing the space race. Many other notable launches followed – first animal in the Earth orbit (USSR, Laika, 1957), first communication satellite (USA, 1958), first animals returning to Earth (USSR, 1960, Belka and Strelka), first human in Space (USSR, 1961, Yuri Gagarin), first humans on the Moon (USA, Apollo-11, 1969) and many more.
Laika was one of the Soviet space dogs. Her real name was Kudryavka (Little Curly) but Laika is the one that made her popular around the globe. Her name, Laika comes from the name for the Husky dog in Russian as Laika was a Husky-mix.
Laika was not the first choice for this mission. That was another stray dog, named Albina. Still, Albina was not chosen for the mission out of respect. She had already flown her mission halfway to the Earth orbit and obviously landed safely.
She was not the first animal in space. That glory was reserved for fruit flies that were first in the Space. They were followed by mice and monkeys (USA used monkeys in their animal space programs, while the USSR used dogs).
Still, Laika was the first living being in the Earth orbit. She was the stray dog from the streets of Moscow. Soviets used female stray dogs because stray dogs could endure long periods of inactivity much easier. And females were chosen because they didn’t need to lift up the leg while urinating. Dogs were then trained to stand still for long time periods and to get used to their “space suits”. Laika was around 3 years old and weighed around 6kg. She was not only clever but also cute and that was important since this flight was made to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the October Revolution.
On November 3, 1957, Laika “piloted” Sputnik-2, but unluckily for her, it was a one-way journey. At that time, the Soviets simply didn’t have a technology to return her safely to the Earth. She was the one and the only dog sent into space without the plan for the return.
People who were on the mission still regret because she had to die. Everything was planned in order to reduce her suffering. Dr. Vladimir Yazdovsky had been with Laika since the start, since he led the team that picked Laika from the streets. He brought her home on the day before launch so she can have a home and a family for at least a one day. He said: “I wanted to do something nice for her.“. Before her flight, he kissed her in the nose and other team members also petted her.
Laika monument in Moscow – erected in 2008
Official versions claimed that she died from poison in her food or gas that was intentionally used to prevent any additional suffering. Unofficial versions range from dying of fear to being boiled alive because the thermal protection didn’t function as expected. After many years, people are still sad about her destiny. Oleg Gazenko, one of the scientists in the team said: “The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it” and “We shouldn’t have done it. We did not learn enough from the mission to justify the death of the dog.”.
Part of the “Monument to the Conquerors of Space” (including Laika) – Moscow – erected in 1964
No matter how she died, it was the sad event, but her name will stay in the history for eternity. She boldly went where no man has gone before.
Many nations (mostly from the Eastern Block) issued stamps to commemorate her flight. No matter if you lived in East or West, today we can look at it as we should – it was the achievement of the whole humanity and of one small dog.
Now, let’s take a look at some stamps. Some of them are issued in series (I guess you’ll easily find Laika on them) while others were issued as single stamps or sheets.
Romania 1957 stamp (denomination 1.20 lei) inside the Hungary 1963 stamp (denomination 1.70 Ft, part of the series of space stamps in stamps)
Albania – Space Exploration – 1962 (denominations 0.50, 1, 1.50 and 20 lek)
Mongolia – Space Flights – 1963 (denominations from 5 to 70 möngö and 1 tögrög)
Ajman (UAE) – 1971 (denomination 12 Riyal)
Hungary – 1982 – (denominations from 1 Ft to 6 Ft)
Bosnia and Herzegovina – 2007 (denomination 3 KM/BAM)
Hungary – 2007 (denomination 350 Ft)
Nothing to add, just thank you, you small brave creature, with a big heart!
Continue reading: Sputnik 1: Top 10 Things You Should Know
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