Laika was a Soviet space dog that became the first animal to orbit the Earth – as well as the first animal to die in orbit.
As little was known about the impact of spaceflight on living creatures at the time of Laika’s mission, and the technology to de-orbit had not yet been developed, there was no expectation of Laika’s survival. Some scientists believed humans would be unable to survive the launch or the conditions of outer space, so engineers viewed flights by non-human animals as a necessary precursor to human missions. Laika, a stray dog, originally named Kudryavka, underwent training with two other dogs, and was eventually chosen as the occupant of the Soviet spacecraft Sputnik 2 that was launched into outer space on November 3, 1957.
Laika likely died within hours after launch from overheating, possibly caused by a failure of the central R-7 sustainer to separate from the payload. The true cause and time of her death was not made public until 2002; instead, it was widely reported that she died when her oxygen ran out on day six, or (as Soviet government initially claimed) she was euthanised prior to oxygen depletion. Nonetheless, the experiment proved that a living passenger could survive being launched into orbit and endure wightlessness, paving the way for human spaceflight and providing scientists with some of the first data on how living organisms react to spaceflight environments.
On April 11, 2008, Russian officials unveiled a monument to Laika. A small monument in her honour was built near the military research facility in Moscow which prepared Laika’s flight to space. It features a dog standing on top of a rocket.