When we think of the pioneering figures of the Space Race, the names Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Yuri Gagarin spring to mind. There is no denying their place in the annals of 20th century history, however they were not the first living creatures to venture into the dark expanse of space.
This title falls to an unlikely, non-human figure. Laika the dog was the first living creature to venture outside earth’s atmosphere, and it was an achievement many at the time believed unthinkable. The idea that humans could survive in space – even for a few minutes – was hotly debated at the time; With no gravity would humans simply choke on the contents of their stomach, or would radiation kill an individual before they could return to the safety of earths atmosphere?
Aboard Sputnik 2 on November 4th 1957, she left the atmosphere and orbited the planet for some time until the spacecraft’s life support failed. Using highly sophisticated life support and monitoring equipment, Soviet scientists were able to observe Laika’s reactions, bodily functions and heart rate.
Understanding the effects that space travel would have on living creatures paved the way for the first manned space mission by Yuri Gagarin some four years later. If dogs were capable of surviving, then cosmonauts were more than well equipped to face the dangers of leaving earth.
Mankind’s first dangerous voyages into space were in part made possible by man’s best friend.