I'm not sure why people wanted to go into outer space. Maybe they wanted to go just because it was there, which is the same reason why people climb Mt. Everest. But since nobody had ever been in outer space, the scientists didn't know if people could even survive being shot way up high into space or what would happen when they were weightless and stuff like that. So they decided to use dogs to find out what would happen to them in space.
The scientists called Laika by several different names, but "Laika" is the one that everybody remembers today. This name means "barker" or "howler" in Russian, and it is written like this: Лайка, which doesn't seem like it should be "Laika," but I guess you have to know Russian, which I definitely don't!
Oh, and another interesting thing about the word "Laika" is that there is a breed of Russian dogs that are called Laikas. These dogs are sort of like huskies. I guess maybe someone thought Laika had a little bit of this dog breed in her, even though she was small, like only 12 pounds or so. Personally, I think she looked more like a Jack Russell terrier than like a husky.
But anyway, Laika and the other two stray dogs, Albina and Mushka, were all trained to be cosmonauts, which is Russian for astronauts. The training was to make them get used to being in a very small space, where they could only stand, sit, or lie down. They could not turn around or walk or play with balls or do anything like that. And they had to stay in this small space for days at a time, while wearing a poop bag and eating dog food that was sort of a gel.
Albina and Mushka were each launched into space and came down again, so the scientists could see if they were still alive when they got back, which they were. But Laika was chosen to go into orbit around the earth, and sadly, there were no plans to bring her back.
Laika got launched into space on November 3, 1957. She did not have much fun being in orbit because the capsule thing that she was in got too hot inside. This caused her to be really stressed, and then after a few hours, she died. At first, the Russians told everybody that Laika lived for several days, but a few years ago, they finally admitted that Laika only lived for 5 or 6 hours.
This is what makes the story of Laika so sad, is that she had to die all alone in outer space. But the good part is that she proved that an animal could survive being shot into space and then orbiting around the earth. Later on, humans figured out how to do this without dying.
Anyway, Laika became very famous and will always be remembered by lots of people. In Russia, they made a nice statue of her, and her picture got put on a postage stamp in Romania. Still it would have been better if Laika could have just had a kind family to live with. At least that's my opinion!