It’s almost 65 years since the Russians put a dog in space.
The idea was to prove that living things could survive space flight.
The launch was successful, but there was just one problem — the dog died (and not long after take off it turned out).
Laika was a stray the Russians had found on the streets of Moscow, placed in the spaceship Sputnik II and fired into orbit.
Unfortunately for the dog, there were never any plans for a return flight.
One of the technicians who prepared the capsule said that: “After placing Laika in the container and before closing the hatch, we kissed her nose and wished her bon voyage, knowing that she would not survive the flight.”
The launch was designed to show that a living creature could survive the trauma of a launch as well as the effects of zero gravity, paving the way for space travel by humans.
It might have seemed like a good idea at the time but the exercise sparked outrage from animal lovers around the world.
Three dogs were trained for the Sputnik 2 flight: Albina, Mushka, and Laika.
Soviet space-life scientists Vladimir Yazdovsky and Oleg Gazenko trained the dogs.
Before the launch, one of the mission scientists took Laika home to play with his children.
In a book chronicling the story of Soviet space medicine, Dr. Vladimir Yazdovsky wrote: “Laika was quiet and charming . . . I wanted to do something nice for her: She had so little time left to live.”
In Britain the BBC’s switchboard was jammed by irate callers, even before the announcer had finished reading the news.
The RSPCA’s switchboard was also bombarded with calls and forced to tell protesters to call the Soviet embassy direct — what’s more, they happily gave out the Embassy’s phone number.
The League Against Cruel Sports expressed “horror and contempt” at the actions of the Russians “beside which the sickening stories of the inhuman cruelties of the Middle Ages fade into insignificance.”
As the backlash continued to swell the National Canine Defence League appealed for a minute’s silence at 11am every day.
Then there was Lady Munnings, the outraged wife of the Royal Academy’s former president, who suggested, “Instead of dogs, why not use child murderers, who just get life sentences and have a jolly good time in prison?”
As protesters threatened to storm the Russian Embassy in London, First Secretary Yuri Modin was forced to make a statement.
“The Russians love dogs. This has been done not for the sake of cruelty but for the benefit of humanity,” he said.
Although the Russians insisted the dog died painlessly after about a week in orbit, an official revealed in 2002 that Laika had actually died from panic and overheating within hours of takeoff.
Five to seven hours into the flight, there were no further signs of life.
The saga came to a fiery end five months later, on April 14, 1958, when Sputnik II with Laika’s remains on board burned up on re-entry.
Four other dogs died in Soviet space missions.
Bars and Lisichka were died when their R-7 rocket exploded shortly after take-off, while Pchyolka and Mushka were killed when Sputnik 3 was blown up to prevent foreign powers from getting their hands on the capsule after a botched re-entry.
On April 11, 2008, Russian officials unveiled a monument to Laika at Star City, Russia, the Russian Cosmonaut training facility.