Laika the Cosmonaut Dog


Believe it or not, we have animals to thank for much advancement made in the world of medicine, technology and space exploration.

In fact, it was a dog that was the first living creature to leave the planet in a rocket that helped pave the way to the Moon.

The story dates back to the 1950’s when the United States and the Soviet Union were engaged in what was known as the space race.

The pressure was on to see which super power would be the first to develop the means to eventually send a human into orbit and successfully bring them back home.

Because this was all new territory, and the risks of sending a human in the early rockets to burst through the grips of gravity presented countless risks, animals were the go-to remedy.

Apparently in Moscow a number of stray dogs were collected just for the purpose of sending them into space.

The thought behind using strays was that these dogs would have already had a fair deal of conditioning having been forced to survive in cold conditions and fighting off famine. One of the dogs was named Laika.

Who Was Laika and How Was She Trained For Space Flight

laika 1
She was a medium-sized mongrel found in the streets of Moscow. What set her apart from many of the other dogs collected by the Russian space agency was that she had a calm, passive character.

Laika was a nice dog that would have made an excellent pet. However, that was not her calling. She ended up in a rigorous training program that was described as harsh and somewhat cruel.


A total of 36 dogs entered the program. They endured some interesting tests including:


  • Time spent in centrifuges to simulate rocket acceleration
  • They were exposed to machines that made noises that simulated spacecraft environments
  • Over time, each dog was placed in a cage then into progressively smaller cages to simulate the size constraints of a space capsule.


The health of many of these dogs, which was likely compounded with this extreme training program, saw several eliminated. However, on November 3, 1957 Laika was chosen to be sent into space aboard Sputnik 2. There have been several different versions of the story as to what happened on Sputnik 2. We’ll look at those shortly.

Laika Had A Nice Few Days Before Liftoff

Because it was considered highly unlikely that Laika was going to survive the space flight she was treated with great compassion in her final few days.

The director of the astronaut dog program was Dr. Vladimir Yazdovsky. Because of her friendly nature, Laika was taken home by Yazdovsky to spend time with his family.

There she was fed well and had children to play with which was a really nice way to give her some freedom and relaxation before her challenging space mission.

The Stories About Laika’s Space Flight

laika 2

Well, according to Russian authorities, Laika was comfortable in her space capsule. There were automatic food and water dispensers that were there to keep her alive for the duration of the space flight.

Unfortunately that was not close to the truth. Another version of the story was that Laika has died painlessly at the moment the space capsule lost oxygen in the cabin she was in.

It wasn’t until 2002 when the truth was revealed. It was far from the ‘kind’ stories that were circulating during that time. The space flight of Laika was actually far shorter than that.


What Really Happened On Sputnik 2

Russian Dr. Dimitri Malashenkov explained the space flight for Laika as far different to the ‘official’ stories that had been released by the space agency. The space ship had overheated early into the flight which caused Laika to panic.

This would have caused her blood pressure to elevate to unsafe levels and the types of controls in place would have been few, if any to assist Laika in calming down.

Malashenkov revealed that unfortunately, due to the conditions inside the space capsule, Laika died within hours of the launch and remained encapsuled in Sputnik 2 for the following five months of the mission. When the space ship returned to Earth, it burned up when it re-entered the atmosphere in April 1958.

sputnik laika

The American Animals Sent In Space

NASA had a very different approach to space travel and did not use dogs. The first ‘animals’ sent into space by the United States actually went up long before Laika did.

They used fruit flies as the first test and in June 1949 a rhesus monkey went into space in June 1949. However, Laika was the first dog and was the first animal to actually go into orbit.

The European Space Agency used a group of water bears in open space exposure tests in 2007. Other animals used in the 21st Century include cockroaches, geckos and mice.

Are Animals Disposable In Such Circumstances?

We as a society are beginning to take animal cruelty to a whole new level, we are becoming more aware of where animals are used for our benefit.

It is no longer uncommon to see labels on products proudly announcing that they are either “not tested on animals” or “animal/cruelty-free” which has spawned an industry of its own. Animals are living creatures, just like humans.

And instead of allowing animals to be used as human substitutes in various testing arenas, humans are speaking out to protect them.

It is from this movement that we can thank those pioneering animals for showing us that they deserve much better than to be used as test subjects.

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