Horrific death of Russian space dog Laika who died from panic and overheating

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The Space Race between the US and the Soviet Union was one of the biggest flashpoints during the height of the Cold War.

And it was the Soviets who were leading the way in space exploration after they successfully launched dogs into space (only for sub-orbital launches) and had launched the world’s first satellite in October 1957, the Sputnik 1.

When Laika’s vessel, the Sputnik 2, shot into orbit on this day 64 years ago (November 3, 1957), the USSR recorded another victory over their arch-rivals in the Space Race.

Laika was a stray that had been picked up from the streets of Moscow just one week before her space odyssey was set to begin – chosen partly due to her small size and her calm demeanour.

All of the 36 dogs that the Soviets sent into space – before Yuri Gagarin became the first human to make the journey in 1961 – were strays, chosen for their scrappiness.

The flight was meant to test the safety of space travel for humans, but it was a guaranteed suicide mission for the dog since the technology had not advanced far enough to make a return trip possible.

Although the Soviets had reassured the general public that her death would be humane, 45 years later in 2002 it was revealed by the BBC that these reports had been greatly exaggerated.

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Although the Soviets had long insisted the canine had died painlessly after a week in orbit, an official with Moscow’s Institute for Biological Problems leaked the truth that she had in fact died within hours of take-off due to panic and overheating.

The rocket continued to orbit the Earth for five months before burning up when it re-entered the atmosphere in April 1958.

Animal welfare organisations at the time expressed outrage that the Soviets had sent a dog into space.

The National Canine Defence League called all dog lovers to observe a minute’s silence for every day Laika was in space, while the RSPCA said it received calls of protest even before the Moscow Radio announcement of the launch had ended.

Media outlets around the world alternated between mockery and pity for the dog, with headlines such as "pupnik and pooch-nik, sputpop and woofnik".

While the Daily Mirror exclaimed that "THE DOG WILL DIE, WE CAN’T SAVE IT".

The Soviet embassy in London was forced to go into damage control mode, with a Soviet official saying: "The Russians love dogs… This has been done not for the sake of cruelty but for the benefit of humanity."

One of Laika’s human counterparts in the USSR’s space programme referred to her as a good dog and mentioned how he brought her home to play with his children before she undertook her voyage.

Dr Vladimir Yazdovsky wrote in a book about Soviet space medicine: "Laika was quiet and charming. I wanted to do something nice for her. She had so little time left to live."

  • Dogs
  • Space
  • Russia
  • Spaced Out

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