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Laika (Russian: Лайка, literally meaning "Barker"; c. 1954 – November 3, 1957) was a Soviet space dog that became the first animal to orbit the Earth and the first orbital death. The technology to deorbit had not yet been developed, so there was no expectation for survival. Little was known about the impact of spaceflight on living things at the time Laika's mission was launched. 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.[1] Laika, a stray, originally named Kudryavka (Russian: Кудрявка Little Curly), 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,[2] possibly due to a failure of the central R-7 sustainer to separate from the payload.[3] 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, or (as the Soviets initially insisted) she was euthanised prior to oxygen depletion. Nonetheless, the experiment proved 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.

On April 11, 2008, Russian officials unveiled a monument to Laika. A small monument in her honor 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.[1][4]


Sputnik 2

After the success of Sputnik 1, Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader, wanted a spacecraft launched on November 7, 1957, the 40th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. A more sophisticated satellite was already under construction, but it would not be ready until December; this satellite would later become Sputnik 3.[5]

To meet the November deadline, a new craft would have to be built. Khrushchev specifically wanted his engineers to deliver a "space spectacular," a mission that would repeat the triumph of Sputnik I, stunning the world with Soviet prowess. The planners settled on an orbital flight with a dog. Soviet rocket engineers had long intended a canine orbit before attempting human spaceflight; since 1951, they had lofted 12 dogs into sub-orbital space on ballistic flights, working gradually toward an orbital mission possibly some time in 1958. To satisfy Khrushchev's demands, the orbital canine flight was expedited for the November launch.[6]

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