Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Ground Control to Major Dog

I've recently been poking around the old newsreels on archive.org, and a lot of them reflect the amazement and urgency of the early days of spaceflight. I'm too young for Sputnik and Mercury, but the words "Pegasus", "Telstar", and "Gemini" still spark a sense of wonder in me forty years later.

Laika, First Animal in OrbitOne of the early casualties of the frantic space race between the US and USSR was Laika the dog. There had been fruit flies and monkeys in suborbital space, but Laika, a stray off the streets of Moscow, was the first animal to circle the globe. At that time, each space milestone was a critical game of one-upsmanship in the ongoing cold war. Laika's berth aboard Sputnik 2 was designed in less than four weeks at Chairman Krushchev's urging, and with that little preparation none of the scientists had any illusions about her returning from the trip.

Though that sounds callous, one of the lead scientists has expressed his growing regret over the years about Laika's being sent on the mission. But they didn't just stuff a dog in a capsule-- they did a great deal to adapt the dog to the G-forces and confined living space. They provided a poison food packet to euthanize the dog after several days rather than let her suffocate when the air ran out. However they stopped getting life signs by seven hours into the flight, and they believe she died from stress and overheating.

I'm not normally very sentimental, but the whole story strikes a melancholy chord with me. But I hear that there are bands named after her, and novels speculating how she was rescued by aliens... or was discovered by a Norse divinity to become his companion... or circles the Earth watching over us and feeding off of radio waves... and this gives me warm cockles.

3 comments:

Buster the Wired Fox Terror said...

Sigh.

Bussie Kissies
Buster

Charlie said...

I remember going out one night with my grandfather to look for Sputnik. I'm glad I didn't know then that Laika had a one way ticket. Sigh...
- Charlie's mom

Pappy's Fella said...

Buster and Charlie,
She's been immortalized, but sometimes it's not so much fun being immortalized.