60 Years Ago, Laika Died Alone in Space Aboard Sputnik 2

The very first living creature to enter orbit

The Soviet Union stunned the world on Nov. 3, 1957, with the launch of Sputnik 2. On board the small satellite was a little dog, the first animal to orbit Earth.

Laika was a young, mostly-Siberian husky. She was rescued from the streets of Moscow. Soviet scientists assumed that a stray dog would have already learned to endure harsh conditions of hunger and cold temperatures. She was trained for space travel by being kept in small cages and learning to eat a nutritious gel that would be his food in space.


Sputnik 2 launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome (now located in Kazakhstan). The rocket successfully reached space and the spacecraft, with Laika inside, began to orbit the Earth. The spacecraft circled the Earth every hour and 42 minutes.

As the world watched and waited for news of Laika’s condition, the Soviet Union announced that a recovery plan had not been established for Laika. With only three weeks to create the new spacecraft, they did not have time to create a way for Laika to make it home. The de facto plan was for Laika to die in space.

Laika dies in space

Although all agree that Laika made it into orbit, there had long been a question as to how long she lived after that.

Some said that the plan was for her to live for several days and that her last food allotment was poisoned. Others said she died four days into the trip when there was an electrical burnout and the interior temperatures rose dramatically. And still, others said she died five to seven hours into the flight from stress and heat.

The true story of when Laika died was not revealed until 2002, when Soviet scientist Dimitri Malashenkov addressed the World Space Congress in Houston, Texas. Malashenkov ended four decades of speculation when he amitted that Laika had died from overheating just hours after the launch.

Long after Laika’s death, the spacecraft continued to orbit the Earth with all its systems off until it reentered Earth’s atmosphere five months later, on April 14, 1958 and burned up on reentry.

In the Soviet Union, Laika and all the other animals that made space flight possible are remembered as heroes.

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