Soviet physicians chose Laika to die, but they were not entirely heartless. One of her keepers, Vladimir Yazdovsky, took 3-year-old Laika to his home shortly before the flight because “I wanted to do something nice for the dog,” he later recalled.
Three days before the scheduled liftoff, Laika entered her constricted travel space that allowed for only a few inches of movement. Newly cleaned, armed with sensors, and fitted with a sanitation device, she wore a spacesuit with metal restraints built-in. On November 3 at 5:30 a.m., the ship lifted off with G-forces reaching five times normal gravity levels.
The noises and pressures of flight terrified Laika: Her heartbeat rocketed to triple the normal rate, and her breath rate quadrupled. The National Air and Space Museum holds declassified printouts showing Laika’s respiration during the flight. She reached orbit alive, circling the Earth in about 103 minutes. Unfortunately, loss of the heat shield made the temperature in the capsule rise unexpectedly, taking its toll on Laika. She died “soon after launch,” Russian medical doctor and space dog trainer Oleg Gazenko revealed in 1993. “The temperature inside the spacecraft after the fourth orbit registered over 90 degrees,” Lewis says. “There’s really no expectation that she made it beyond an orbit or two after that.” Without its passenger, Sputnik 2 continued to orbit for five months.https://72b88d6c209a1fc46172d2705ff1fcec.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
During and after the flight, the Soviet Union kept up the fiction that Laika survived for several days. “The official documents were falsified,” Lewis says. Soviet broadcasts claimed that Laika was alive until November 12. The New York Times even reported that she might be saved; however, Soviet communiqués made it clear after nine days that Laika had died.
While concerns about animal rights had not reached early 21st century levels, some protested the deliberate decision to let Laika die because the Soviet Union lacked the technology to return her safely to Earth. In Great Britain, where opposition to hunting was growing, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the British Society for Happy Dogs opposed the launch. A pack of dog lovers attached protest signs to their pets and marched outside the United Nations in New York. “The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it,” said Gazenko more than 30 years later.
The humane use of animal testing spaceflight was essential to preparation for manned spaceflight, Lewis believes. “There were things that we could not determine by the limits of human experience in high altitude flight,” Lewis says. Scientists “really didn’t know how disorienting spaceflight would be on the humans or whether an astronaut or cosmonaut could continue to function rationally.”https://72b88d6c209a1fc46172d2705ff1fcec.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
Alas, for Laika, even if everything had worked perfectly, and if she had been lucky enough to have plenty of food, water and oxygen, she would have died when the spaceship re-entered the atmosphere after 2,570 orbits. Ironically, a flight that promised Laika’s certain death also offered proof that space was livable.
The story of Laika lives on today in websites, YouTube videos, poems and children’s books, at least one of which provides a happy ending for the doomed dog. Laika’s cultural impact has been spread across the years since her death. The Portland, Oregon, Art Museum is currently featuring an exhibition on the stop-motion animation studio LAIKA, which was named after the dog. The show “Animating Life” is on view through May 20, 2018. There is also a “vegan lifestyle and animal rights” periodical called LAIKA Magazine, published in the United States.
The 1985 Swedish film, My Life as a Dog, portrayed a young man’s fears that Laika had starved. Several folk and rock singers around the globe have dedicated songs to her. An English indie-pop group took her name, and a Finnish band called itself Laika and the Cosmonauts. Novelists Victor Pelevin of Russia, Haruki Murakami of Japan, and Jeannette Winterson of Great Britain have featured Laika in books, as has British graphic novelist Nick Abadzis.