It's A Dog's Life
The animal looking slightly puzzled as to the purpose of this 1950's canine equivalent of a Lazee-Boy recliner was called Laika. Laika translates as 'Barker' would you believe, unfortunately history does not recall the Russian equivalent of Corbett, no doubt it translates back as Chihuahua.
Anyway, fifty three years ago today Laika embarked on possibly the most surreal 'walkies' of any of our four legged friends, I use 'our' collectively as I have a psychological dislike of dogs unless they have a number two on their backs and can be seen chasing an electric hare.
Laika was sent into space at a period in 20th Century history when the Russians were actually ahead in the spacer ace, this despite the fact that the Americans had nicked the best German scientists after World War Two.
Laika blasted off on Sputnik 2, having won Russia's doggy version of X Factor by beating two other dogs in a contest to find the first space guinea pig. It does seem slightly bizarre, even cruel when you consider the process that led to Laika being one of the three selected for possible space training, in fact it's hard to believe that the selection process did only take place some three years before the start of the 1960's. Laika was actually a stray called Curly who was found wandering the streets of Moscow and Russian scientists, in a line of thinking straight out of a 19th Century horror story, believed that having been a 'street dog' she would be better equipped to endure the harsh training regime. Given the alcohol problems that the Soviet Union and its satellite states have had to endure over the past hundred years or so it must have been some job to persuade the scientists that humans living on the streets of Moscow weren't fair game either.
Anyway Curly was part husky, part terrier and probably part terrified, although she was described by those who took part in the Soviet space programme as being a laid-back dog, although whether or not this was down to natural phlegmatism, drugs or fear is not clear.
In keeping with the rather dark nature of this story the flight was bound to end in tears. Having completed five hours of the flight all contact with the dog was lost, Laika was dead. It wasn't the end of the flight though and Sputnik 2 carried on orbiting the earth for another 2,500 orbits, or for five months, the equivalent of three years in dog terms, before disintegrating on re-entry to earth in April 1958.
That wasn't the end of the story though, Russia refused to confirm firstly whether or not the dog had survived the flight and later having admitted the dog had died they wouldn't say how it had died. The truth eventually came out in 2002 when one of the scientists involved in the project confirmed that the dog had died due to a problem with overheating in the capsule.
The Russians were crestfallen but it took them until 1998 to admit that sending animals into space was wrong, during the intervening years though the Americans, French, Argentinians and Russians all sent Monkey's into space and actually proved that whilst a dog may be man's best friend a Monkey is his best space travelling companion as only, and I use the word loosely, a couple of monkey's died out of the thirty two that took off and came home.