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Were you aware that the first living being to go into space was not a human? That’s right! Before humans were sent to space, animals were used to test whether space travel was safe for humans, and Laika was a brave and smart little dog who made history by being the first animal astronaut to orbit the Earth. In this article, we will learn about her incredible journey and her contribution to space exploration.
Preparations for the Space Mission Sputnik 2
Laika, which in Russian means “barker”, was a stray dog who was picked up from the streets of Moscow (Russia). The Soviet Union selected her for their space program, thinking that a small, calm dog would be able to handle the stress of being in spacecraft better than larger dogs.
(Image in Public domain)
Laika was trained for months to prepare for her mission called Sputnik 2, a very important mission, as it was the first time humans were sending a living creature into space. During her training, she learned to eat special food and was fitted with a space suit that included a helmet and a harness to keep her in place during the flight.
(Image courtesy James Duncan/ The original space suit that the experimental space dog, Laika, wore into space on November 3rd, 1957. The space suit is now displayed at the Moscow Space Museum)
A One-Way Trip
On November 3, 1957, Laika was launched into space. Unfortunately, the Soviet spacecraft Sputnik 2 was not designed to return to Earth. It was for Laika a one-way trip and sadly she passed away a few hours after the launch due to overheating caused by a malfunction in the spacecraft’s temperature control system.
Despite the tragic end to her mission, Laika made a vital contribution to space exploration, by providing valuable information to scientists about the way space travel affects living organisms. After Laika’s mission, the Soviet Union continued to send animals to space. Not only other dogs, but also cats, rabbits, mice, and even insects. Laika inspired many future space missions, and she is remembered today as a hero: a symbol of the courage and sacrifice that animals have made in advancing space exploration.
(Image courtesy Memorial Museum of Astronautics)
1. Laika was the first animal astronaut, but what kind of animal was she?
a) a cat
b) a small dog
c) a domesticated monkey
2. Which Soviet space mission launched Laika and allowed her to reach Earth’s orbit?
a) Sputnik 1
b) Sputnik 2
c) Apollo 11
3. What was the goal of Laika’s space flight?
a) to investigate Moon’s surface and to discover if there are any bones
b) to determine whether space travel was risk-free for humans
c) to orbit our planet
Animals Played an Important Role in Aeronautic and Cosmic Research
Although Laika wasn’t the first animal sent to space, she was the first animal to orbit the Earth, and her bravery and sacrifice helped pave the way for future space missions and cosmic research.
Animals had played a significant role in aeronautic exploration since 1783 when the Montgolfier brothers sent a sheep, a duck, and a rooster aloft in a hot air balloon, as we can see in this article.
(Image courtesy Karsten Paulick)
If Laika’s story inspired you, try to learn more about space exploration and science by reading books, watching documentaries, or even visiting a planetarium or museum. Who knows, maybe one day you will become a space explorer yourself!
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