11/03 – Laika

A Mongolian Air Mail stamp depicting Laika. (source: Flickr)

On this day in 1957 the Prosteyshiy Sputnik 2 (or, Elementary Satellite 2) spacecraft was launched by the USSR. Sputnik 2 sent Laika, a stray dog from Moscow, into outer space. Laika became the first living being to orbit the earth; tragically, the samoyed-husky mix died from exposure to extreme heat (her survival was never intended).

Laika’s spaceflight was ordered by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. The launch helped bring the USSR closer to its goal of sending the first human being into space (Yuri Gagarin, a human male) in 1961, whilst also putting further pressure on the United States to speed up its own space program. Laika may have died an unpleasant death, alone in space, but her historic journey helped jumpstart the space race – a unique aspect of the Cold War.

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