Over six decades ago, Prosteyshiy Sputnik 2 became the world’s second artificial satellite and the first to carry a living animal into orbit, a dog named Laika
Looking up at the sky, the stars have always been a source of fascination to humanity. From the arts and sciences to mythology they have always been an inspiration, was it any wonder that we would eventually try to find our way to make our mark among them?
The first spacecraft to carry a living being into orbit and the second to have orbited the Earth, the Soviet-made Sputnik 2, despite having encountered technical difficulties and had not met the parameters that it was initially crafted to meet, had still provided valuable data that had led to further advances in the field of space travel when it was launched into space on November 3, 1957.
A total of four meters high, the cone shaped capsule was designed with several compartments to carry the various pieces of equipment from radio transmitters and telemetry systems to air regeneration and temperature control systems that would help it study the effects of bringing living beings into orbit, as well as spectrophotometers to study solar radiation.
Among other things, Sputnik 2 was probably most remembered for its passenger, Laika. One of 10 dogs that had been shortlisted for usage for the launch, Laika – previously known as Kudryavka, or ‘Little Curly’ – was chosen out of the final three due to her even demeanour, with the other two dogs Albina and Mukha being relegated to backup and equipment testing respectively.
Laika’s cabin was a sealed and padded compartment equipped with a camera that had enough room for the dog to be able to sit and stand. Ten days’ worth of gelatinised food and water were provided by dispensers, as well as an oxygen supply that would last roughly the same amount of time. Additionally Laika was fitted with a harness that had electrodes to monitor her vital signs, and a bag to deal with her waste. There were unfortunately no plans made for recovery or even re-entry, with the expectation that Laika would simply asphyxiate at the end of the 10-day study.
Sputnik 2 was launched via a Sapwood SS-6 8K71PS launch vehicle, similar to the one that had launched Sputnik 1. While Sputnik 2 was deployed, there had been damage to the thermal insulation, and furthermore the separation of the Block A core was unsuccessful.
Details of how long Laika had survived in orbit were conflicted of course, with official statements at the time claiming that the dog had survived a full week, with other sources post-USSR place her lifespan anywhere from a few hours to a handful of days – attributing her passing to a combination of heatstroke and carbon dioxide build-up.
Eventually deorbiting on April 14 the following year, the data collected by scientists during the initial orbits before Laika had passed on was the very first information obtained on behaviour of any living animal in space and still provided important data that was later utilised for further advancements in manned launches.
Tragic as Laika’s tale had ended, the results gained from Sputnik 2 fuelled the Space Race, with everything from Yuri Gagarin being the first man to orbit the Earth four years later in 1961 to the Apollo 11 Moon Landing on July 20, 1969 being thanks to her.
Rest easy little pup, you’re barking among the stars now.
Photos © iStock by Getty Images