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Dedicated to the memory of Laika, the first space dog, who was launched on a one way journey to the heavens on November 3, 1957.

Dedicated To The Memory of

Laika - first dog, and living creature, in space

First Dog In Space

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched the world's first artificial satellite, and sent shock waves throughout the western world. Named Sputnik, the silvery shaped sphere had a diameter of 22 inches and a weight of 190.5 pounds. It circled the globe every 1 hour and 35 minutes in an elliptical orbit with an apogee of 947 kilometers, and a perigee of 228 kilometers. On board were two transmitters, which operated on 20.005 and 40.002 megacycles respectively. The transmitted signals took the form of telegraphic impulses, with a duration of approximately .03 seconds....followed by a pause of equal duration.

In retrospect, the launch of Sputnik may go down as one of the greatest achievements of the 20th the time however, the launch was view with great concern in the United States. By demonstrated it possessed a rocket powerful enough to lift a payload into low earth orbit, the Soviet Union also showed their capability to send a nuclear tipped ICBM missile into the heart of the United States. America suddenly found itself vulnerable....and shocked.......the cold war suddenly escalated to a new level.

In accordance with the IGY program for the scientific investigation of the upper strata of the atmosphere, and the study of physical processes and live conditions in the cosmic space, a second artificial earth satellite was launched in the Soviet Union on 3 November 1957.

So read the announcement by the Russian news agency TASS concerning the launch of Sputnik-2 .....and the world was once again in awe and fear of the capabilities of the Soviet Union. This time however, the orbiting satellite was not a sphere, but rather a 1.2 meter long cone. And it not only contained scientific and measuring instruments, but also a passenger. Sealed inside the pressurized cabin, was the worlds first live space traveler....a female dog named Kudryavka - "Little Curly" (another source has her name as Kurdrajevskaya). Soviet scientists and zoologists however had nicknamed her.....and soon the whole world would know her simply as LAIKA.

Laika means "Barker" in Russian. It has been reported she was a stray - a good natured mongrel, who had been rounded up from the streets of Moscow along with other canines, and recruited into the Soviet's fledging space program. She was not the first animal to ride a rocket......previously, dogs, monkeys and mice from both the Soviet Union and the United States, had journeyed to the upper layers of the atmosphere aboard sounding rockets. But Laika's trip into space would be was a one way journey.....for although the Soviets had the technology to send her up, they had no way to recover her spacecraft from orbit.

Laika in her carrierHer "home" in space was a 1,118.26 pound vehicle which also carried instruments for investigating cosmic rays and solar radiation, instruments for analyzing temperature and pressure, and measuring instruments. Also on board were two transmitters, operating on the same wave lengths as those on the original Sputnik. But it was Laika who captured the imagination of the world. Her pressurized cabin resembled an elongated ellipsoidal nest. The high walls were covered with soft padded material. There were intricate life support instruments everywhere......on the bottom, along the side and at the very top of the cabin. Laika was secured in place with a special harness, and she had access to both food and water during her flight.

Before the launch, Laika was carefully groomed .....her coat was sponged with a weak alcohol solution, then combed with a fine-toothed comb. Areas of her body where electrodes were to be attached, were painted with iodine and powered with a streptocide.

Laika's space journey began on November 3, 1957 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, located northeast of the Aral sea.. Sputnik-2 was lofted into a 65.3 degrees orbit atop a SS-6 rocket. This elliptical orbit had an apogee of up to 1,671 kilometers (almost twice as high as that of Sputnik-1), and a perigee of 255 kilometers. Laika suffered no ill-effects during the ascent and insertion into orbit. The electrodes attached to her recorded her vital signs and other data. While weightless, she was able to take food and water from the onboard dispenser, bark, and move around, although her movements were restricted by the harness she wore.

There has been some question as to how long Laika remained alive. One rumor suggests she lived for around 10 days.....and that the last of the food in her dispenser contained a poison which put her to sleep. Another story indicates that after only four days, her chamber was filled with gas for euthanasia, still another suggests she succumbed when her oxygen supply was deleted. According to Gyorgi Grechko, a cosmonaut who had previously worked as an engineer at the Korolev design bureau, Laika died when her spacecraft overheated after failing to separate from the booster rocket, thereby rendering the thermal control system inoperative.

The Sputnik-2 continued to circle the earth for 163 days. During that time, it completed 2,370 orbits, and traveled approximately 100 million kilometers. On April 14, 1958, Sputnik-2 - carrying the body of Laika, fell out of orbit and burned up in the earth's atmosphere.

There is a monument located at Star City, outside Moscow, paying tribute to the fallen Russian a corner of the monument, is an image of a small mongrel dog - her ears standing straight. Laika's sacrifice, so early in the space program, helped pave the way for one of mankind's greatest adventures......the exploration of space. She is a true space hero.

Between November 1957 and March 1966, at least thirteen other Russian dogs were launched into space aboard Sputnik series of satellites. Most of the later flights resulted in the safe recovery of the canine passenger, however accidents claimed the lives of four dogs. By order of flight, the Russian spacedogs were:

  • Laika (Barker) -- Died aboard Sputknk-2: November, 1957

  • Bars (Panther or Lynx) and Lisichka ( Little Fox) -- Killed July 28, 1960 during a test flight related to the Vostok spacecraft when the booster rocket exploded.

  • Belka (Squirrel) and Strelka (Little Arrow) were successfully launched August 19, 1960 aboard Korabl-Sputnik-2 (Sputnik-5). After a day on orbit, the vehicle and the two canine passengers (along with 40 mice, 2 rats and a variety of plants) were safely returned to earth

  • Pchelka (Little Bee) Mushka (Little Fly) were not as fortunate. Their spacecraft, Korabl-Sputnik-3 (Sputnik-6) was launched on December 1, 1960, and spent a successful day on-orbit. During the landing phase of the flight, the retrofire burn was preformed with the spacecraft in the wrong orientation. The spacecraft reentered the atmosphere at too steep an angle, and was destroyed. Both dogs died in the accident.

  • Damka (Little Lady) and Krasavka (Beauty) were onboard another Korabl Sputnik vehicle December 22, 1960, when the booster's upper rocket stage failed. The flight was aborted - never having reached orbit, and the dogs were safely recovered

  • Chernushka (Blackie) was launched into space March 9, 1961 onboard Korabl-Sputnik-4 (Sputnik-9). This successful one orbit mission also carried a wooden dummy cosmonaut and a guinea pig, and helped pave the way for the first manned flight the following month.

  • Zvezdochka (Little Star) successfully flew into space March 25, 1960 aboard Korabl-Sputnik-5 (Sputnik-10). This one orbit mission, which also carried a wooden dummy cosmonaut (Ivan Ivanovich), was the final rehearsal for the Yuri Gagarian's upcoming Vostok 1 mission.

  • Verterok or Veterok (Little Wind) and Ugolyok or Ugolek (Little Piece of Coal) flew aboard the biosatelite Kosmos 110 (Voskhod 3) between February 22 and March 16, 1966. The two dogs were monitored via video transmissions and biomedical telemetry throughout the course of their 22 days on orbit. Their flight still stands as the canine spaceflight record, and was not surpassed by humans until the flight of Skylab 2 in June 1974.

Color photo of Laika in her carrier


The Laika Postage Stamp Collection

Honoring the first dog in space

Romania 1957

Romania 1957

Albania 1962

Poland 1964


Evgeny Riabchikov
Doubleday - 1971
(Primary source for information)

Nicholas Booth
Mallard Press - 1990

Anthony R. Curtis
Arcsoft - 1990

Animals In Space


John F. Graham, 1995

Visit Charlie Brown's Air and Space Bookstore
for a selection of great books on the history of space flight

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Counter set March 11, 1999

In Memory of Laika

Copyright 1999 by Jim Tejada.
All rights reserved

SITE CREATED: March 12, 1999

Latest update: March 13, 1999
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