World Space Day 2022: Before Yuri and Neil, there was Laika

·2 min read

Every first Friday of May is celebrated as National Space Day. With pets becoming a more prominent member of the family these days, we look back at the story of Laika.

We’ve all probably heard of Yuri Gagarin, the Soviet cosmonaut who in 1961 became the first man to travel into space. Gagarin completed one orbit of Planet Earth onboard the Vostok 1 capsule.

Then in 1969, the Americans went one step further and claimed history when astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the Moon.

Before these gentlemen became popular icons marking the milestones of the Space Race then between the Soviet Union and the United States, they owed it to animals. Yes, technically, the first “Earthling” sent to make an orbital space flight was a stray dog named Laika (originally named Kudryavka). Found on the streets of Moscow, the Russians believed that a stray like Laika could endure the harsh conditions of space.

The hard fact, however, was that Laika’s trip onboard the Sputnik 2 was suicide mission. The original plan was that Laika would die a painless death, due to oxygen deprivation, in little over a week. There are conflicting reports on how Laika truly died. Some state that Laika died from extreme heat in two days; others claim it was four.

Laika’s successful orbit in 1957 proved that a living passenger can endure space travel.

Was Laika the first dog in space? No. That title belongs to dogs Dezik and Tsygan who were launched to space in 1951. Both were loaded inside a capsule placed on top of a rocket, before dropping back to Earth unharmed with the help of a parachute.

Unfortunately for Dezik, she died during her second mission—alongside another dog named Lisa—when the parachute of her capsule failed to deploy. After this incident, Dezik’s former co-space dog Tsygan was adopted by Russian physicist Anatoli Blagonravov and lived out the rest of her years as a family pet.

Seventy years later, the world has turned to the idea of space tourism. What once was an exclusive experience for astronauts, is now open for civilians who have the capacity to pay for one ride that is truly out-of-this-world amazing. Nobody can truly say what comes next.

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