Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Dog Named Laika

This is the sad story of a famous Russian dog named Laika.  Laika was a stray who was found on the streets of Moscow.  She and two other stray dogs were chosen to be used in the Russian space program.  This all happened back in the 1950s, when Mom was a little girl.  At that time, there was a huge race between America and Russia to see who could get people into space first, and this meant Mom had to take a bunch of "new math" classes in school, which she didn't like much.

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!


  1. Dear Piper,

    We have enjoyed your blog very much and thought you might like an idea for a post. Please go to this link about a war dog and see what you think

    You're always posting about things that are important to dogs and I thought you'd like to know about Nova and other dogs that are helping humans far from home.

    Keep up the good work.

    -Zest, the superstar in training
    (you can see me here

    I'm the talented one; mom has to run around the stuff cuz she's not so talented)

  2. I do recall the story of Laika, after reading your blog. I'll get myself upset if I say much but this science ...almost said a not nice word...of using animals for experimentation is something I have a real problem with. I've heard the arguments on the pro-side, but I want/think/believe dogs and other animals should either be wild or in a family. I do appreciate todays blog, so we can all remember Laika and the others.

  3. Dear Zest,
    Thank you so much for the link to the story about Nova. I am always looking for ideas for my blog, and the subject of Important Famous Dogs is one that people seem to be interested in. I watched you on YouTube, and I am very impressed with your agility skills. I am actually planning a blog entry sometime on agility, but Mel or Barry will have to write it because they took an agility class and I didn't. Mom says she has seen your mom do agility with basenjis at the Nationals sometimes. Good luck in all your competition!
    Your friend,

  4. Piper, thank you for a most informative post! I really enjoyed learning more about Laika. Of course I was alive and aware at the time, but never knew as many details as you divulged!

    I agree, it would have been best if they could have brought Laika back to earth to live out her days as a national hero. But of course, if she had never gone up in space in the name of science, she might have starved on the streets of Moscow, or been cold and sick. At least she did have some good attention in her too-short life.

    As for dogs and science, well, there have been a whole lot of humans able to live longer, healthier lives thanks to dogs. Virtually anyone who has had heart surgery owes their life to what scientists learned from experimentation with dogs. Over the last three hundred years, millions have similarly benefitted from such research. I thank the men of medical science, and I thank DOG, too!