November 3rd 1957 was the day when Laika, a female Samoyed-terrier mix was sent to space in the Sputnik 2 satellite, where it stayed for 10 days – proving claims that life in zero-gravity is possible.
The first living being sent to space was a female Samoyed-terrier, named Laika which was a stray dog found on the streets of Moscow.
Laika weighted 6 kg and the Sputnik 2 cabin had enough room for her to stand up or lie down. An air regeneration system provided the cabin oxygen while food and water were given in a gelatinous form and the dog was fitted with a bag to collect waste. An electrocardiogram monitored heart rate and further instrumentation tracked respiration rate, maximum arterial pressure, and the dog’s movements. Early telemetry indicated that the dog was under stress but still ate the food.
At the time there wasn’t technology for a successful landing on Earth, which meant that Laika was going to be left to die as a result of lack of oxygen after 10 days spent in space.
But this wasn’t the case. Part of the rocket’s thermal isolation broke off after launch and the internal temperature reached 40oC. The veterinarians monitoring Laika’s vitals noticed a significant increase in inner temperature in the bio-department which obviously happened as a result of the damage to the thermal control system. During the flight, Laika was slightly uncomfortable due to the high temperature. The dog finally caved in to the heat exhaustion on the fourth day of the mission, 7th of November. Later analysis confirmed that Laika died of overheating. The dog burned in the atmosphere along with Sputnik 2, after 162 days spent in orbit.
Laika’s stay in space was incredibly important for the soviet space program as well as for space research in general. They were able to collect a lot of important information about how living organisms behave in zero-gravity. If it wasn’t for Laika’s flight and similar ones afterwards, Jury Gagarin would never have been able to fly to space on 12th April 1961.