In 1957, Laika became the first animal launched into orbit, paving the way for human spaceflight. She was a Soviet space dog who became the first animals in space, and the first animal to orbit the Earth. The animal, launched on a one-way trip onboard Sputnik 2 in November 1957, was said to have died painlessly in orbit about a week after blast-off. Now, it has been revealed she died from overheating and panic just a few hours after the mission started. The new evidence was presented at the recent World Space Congress in Houston, Texas, US, by Dimitri Malashenkov of the Institute for Biological Problems in Moscow.

The experiment aimed to prove that a living passenger could survive being launched into orbit and endure weightlessness, paving the way for human spaceflight and providing scientists with some of the first data on how living organisms react to spaceflight environments.

First in space

Laika, which means barker in Russian, was a three-year old, stray mutt that weighed thirteen pounds and had a calm demeanor. Laika was kept in smaller cage for periods up to 20 days for her to get adept to the confines of the tiny cabin of Sputnik 2, she was covered in a alcohol solution and painted with iodine in several spots so that sensors could be placed on her. The sensors were to monitor her heartbeat, blood pressure, and other bodily functions to better understand any physical changes that might occur in space. Her condition deteriorate because the close confinement caused her to stop urinating or defecating and made her restless. Pulses of Laika doubled and her blood pressure increased by 30-65 torr after she was placed in centrifuges that simulated the acceleration of a rocket launch and was placed in machines that simulated the noises of the spacecraft. She also had access to special, gelatinous, space food made for her.

Laika proved that it was possible for a living being to enter space. Her death also sparked animal rights debates across the planet. Created in 1997, Laika is memorialized in the form of a statue and plaque at the Russian Cosmonaut training facility in Star City, Russia. She is positioned behind the cosmonauts with her ears erect. 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.