On November 3, 1957, a tiny capsule rocketed into space. Inside was a diminutive, 14-pound, black and white dog named Laika. And when her spaceship pierced the Earth’s atmosphere, she became the first creature in history to make it to outer space. No small feat for a stray that only days before had been fighting for scraps on the streets of Moscow!
Laika’s unlikely journey was borne out of the race to prove that human spaceflight was possible. Just a month earlier, on October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union—Cold War nemesis of the United States—launched into orbit history’s first satellite, Sputnik 1. That’s when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev insisted that his scientists perform a second test—this time to determine if a living being could survive the journey to the stars.
The mission was too dangerous to risk a human life, so the Soviets decided to train a stray dog to be Russia’s first cosmonaut. Nine days before the scheduled launch, they chose Laika for her gentle disposition and natural beauty. If she was to make history, they reasoned, she would need to be photogenic.
Laika did make history. Monitors followed the sound of her tiny beating heart all the way into Earth’s orbit. But there was a problem: the Soviets had not worked out how to get Laika back. She perished, circling the earth, most likely from the profound heat created by the capsule’s firing rockets.
Laika’s journey sparked not one but two historic advances: the era of human space exploration, and the animal rights movement, particularly in scientific testing. She became a global folk hero. Her sacrifice inspired poems and novels. She was featured on stamps and coins, and memorialized in a Moscow statue. Her fame ensured that going forward efforts would be made to protect the lives of canine cosmonauts.
Sure enough, on August 19, 1960, two more Moscow strays, Belka and Strelka, became the first living creatures to make the round trip to space.
Laika the Soviet Space Dog will always be remembered as the first living being to boldly go where no one had gone before. Laika was a pioneer for humanity.
Sarah Towle is an award-winning digital storyteller of immersive tales for educational tourism. With her latest project for secondary school students—the History Hero BLAST—she puts the Story back in History, bringing a fictional flair to factual tales of inspirational figures from around the world and throughout time. A blog and future podcast, the HHBLAST welcomes the participation of published and aspiring authors, including young writers. Click here to find out more about how to bring the HHBLAST—and Sarah—to your school!
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