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This year, on Thursday 3rd November 2022 will mark the 65th anniversary of Laika, a Russian stray dog, becoming the first living creature to orbit Earth on the rocket Sputnik 2.
Previous American and Russian missions had failed, using a range of animal test subjects including fruitflies, mice, monkeys, and other dogs.
Although Laika successfully journeyed into space, the Russian’s admitted there were no plans for her to ever return to Earth. Instead, Laika was to be fed poisoned food five days into her journey.
However, things did not go according to plan; five hours after blast off Laika died of overheating. Despite the grim ending of poor Laika, this 1957 journey became a defining moment in the history of space exploration, it was only the second time a spacecraft had been successfully launched into space, and the first time a living creature had been on board. Russian biologist, Adilya Kotovskaya (aged 90), helped train Laika and said: “Those nine orbits of Earth made Laika the world’s first cosmonaut – sacrificed for the sake of the success of future space missions.” Such sentiment is echoed by NASA, commenting on the 60th anniversary of Laika’s journey that without testing in the early days of space exploration, Soviet and American programmes “could have suffered great losses of human life”.
Since this mission, animals continued to be used in space travel with two dogs, Belka and Strelka, the first to be sent into space on 19th August 1960, returning alive a day later, and in the following years even cats, spiders and tortoises became cosmonauts.
With advances in technology and improved animal ethics such sentient species are no longer used. However, the Caenorhabditis elegans worm is the latest animal set to travel into space, likely to visit Mars where radiation levels are high. According to the UK Space Agency, the justification for this is that these worms have nerve, muscle and digestive systems are similar to that of humans.