The Cold War space race between United States and Russia demanded intensive research before either side was ready to send human beings into off of the Earth. At first, the physical effects of outer space were tested on animals. The first animal in space was Laika, a three-year-old stray dog found on the streets of Moscow. In 1957, she was put into a poorly-constructed rocket intended to orbit the Earth for months. Laika, on the other hand, only had sufficient food, water, and oxygen for a week.
Laika's space flight was celebrated by the Soviet Union as another step towards sending humans safely into space, thanks to the data they received from her remains. The ethical implications, however, were kept quiet. It would not be until 2007, fifty years after the rocket was launched, that Russia acknowledged Laika's sacrifice. They built a statue of her standing atop a rocket and placed it on the military research facility in Moscow.
But no matter how many monuments they make to the little dog, or how much rational justification can be offered regarding the experiment's benefits to human science, the fact remains that they trapped Laika in an enclosed space and sent her off of the Earth to die. It was believed that she died of overheating as the rocket left the atmosphere, making her last moments unimaginably painful and terrifying. Scientists involved in the experiment expressed deep remorse, some even saying that the benefits of the research could not justify the cruelty of Laika's fate.
Around the fiftieth anniversary of Laika's flight, people outside the Russian government made their own tributes to the first dog in space. They used art to tell her story, but unlike the sculpted monument in Moscow, they wanted to make clear the horrors Laika endured. A graphic novel by Nick Abadzis offered an illustrated retelling of the heartbreaking story, touching on not only the dog herself, but the scientists who had to sent her on her fatal voyage. News articles were written in both Russia and America honoring the anniversary of her demise. And various other videos, prose works, and illustrations were created with the individual artists' own tribute to Laika.
Laika's story has become a moving and heartbreaking touchstone in pop culture along the world. But the saddest part is that on the day before her launch, Dr. Vladimir Yazdovsky took Laika to play with his children. She received a brief taste of what it was like to be safe and loved, only to suffocate the next day after being trapped in a floating metal coffin.
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About the author:
A freelance writer/cartoonist living in LA, with my fiance' and our wonderful cat. You can see my work at www.rubysworldcomic.com and rubynation.smackjeeves.com