What Happened to Laika?
Laika became the first living creature to orbit the Earth during her mission
aboard Sputnik II in November 1957.
Nested comfortably within a pressurized
compartment, Laika survived the shock of launch and the unknown world of
prolonged weightlessness. Television pictures sent back to Earth showed a
small dog handling her strange new environment quite well.
When Laika was launched, though, the Soviet engineers knew she would not
return. The highly complex procedures needed for reentry through the Earth's
atmosphere had not yet been perfected. Seven days into her flight, with food,
oxygen, and batteries running out, the brave little dog became the first
casualty of orbital spaceflight.
There are several stories about how Laika made her end. One states that she
was given a lethal injection from a mechanical syringe controlled from the
ground. Another story is that her last mean contained several poisonous
cyanide tables. But the most likely story is that as the oxygen ran out Laika
simply went to sleep, never to awake.
For nearly six months Sputnik II and the immortalized Laika orbited the Earth
more than 2,500 times. Finally, on April 14, 1958, with its orbit decaying,
Sputnik II began its reentry back through the Earth's atmosphere, burning up
over the Pacific Ocean.
Laika will forever be remembered for the sacrifice she made to open the heavens
to human exploration.