65 years ago, the USSR sent the dog Laïka into space

I asked her to forgive us and I cried stroking her last time“, recalls Adilia Kotovskaya, a Russian biologist. The next day, the dog Laïka takes off for a one-way trip and becomes the first living creature in space.

65 years ago, on November 3, 1957, almost a month after the first Soviet Sputnik was put into orbit, the second artificial satellite in history flew into space with the animal, which was taken on the streets from Moscow. He can only survive for a few hours.

For the Soviet number one at the time, Nikita Khrushchev, the goal was to demonstrate the superiority of the USSR over the United States before the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, on November 7.

His nine Earth orbits made Laïka the first cosmonaut on the planet, sacrificed in the name of the success of future space missions“, underlined Adilia Kotovskaïa, now 90 years old, always proud to have contributed to the training of animals for space missions.

He remembers that dogs had previously been sent to suborbital altitudes for a few minutes.”to verify that it is possible to live in weightlessness“.”We have to send one into space“, he told AFP in Moscow.

To get used to flying in space in a pressurized capsule 80 centimeters long, the dogs were placed in smaller and smaller cages, the scientist recalls. They went through a centrifuge that simulated the acceleration that goes through a rocket’s takeoff, were subjected to noises that simulated the interior of a ship and were fed “space meals” in the form of jelly.

The pioneer animals of space

Laïka, a mongrel dog about three years old and weighing 6 kilograms, was picked up on the streets of Moscow, like all the other “candidates”.

⋙ Animals, pioneers of space conquest

We chose female dogs, because they do not need to lift their paws to urinate and therefore require less space than males, and mongrels because they are more resourceful and less demanding.“, explained the specialist, to the head of a laboratory at the Institute of medico-biological problems in Moscow.

Heat and dehydration

Candidates had to be photogenic and their first name was chosen to mark the spirits. Laïka – from the Russian word “bark” – was chosen from five or six competitors for her resourcefulness, her particularly docile character and her slightly questioning gaze. “Of course we knew that he had to perish on this flight, because there was no way to recover him, there was none at that time.“, continued the old woman.

A day before his mission, “I went to see her, I asked her to forgive us and I even cried while caressing her for the last time“, he recalls. The launch of Sputnik with Laika, November 3, 1957 at 5:30 am (Moscow time), in Kazakhstan, from the future Baikonur cosmodrome, “did not cause any harm“, recalls Adilia Kotovskaïa.

True, as the rocket ascended, Laïka’s heart rate increased dramatically“. After three hours the dog regained its normal rhythm. But suddenly, after the ninth revolution around the Earth, the temperature inside Laïka’s capsule began to rise and exceeded 40°C. , due to lack of adequate protection against solar radiation.

Result: Laïka, who was supposed to have stayed alive for between eight and ten days, died a few hours later from the heat and dehydration. Soviet radio continued despite everything to publish daily reports on “Laïka’s good health“, who became a planetary heroine.

According to the official version, long supported by Moscow, Laïka died thanks to a poison he received with his food to avoid a painful death when the vehicle returned to the atmosphere.

Sputnik itself disintegrated in the atmosphere on April 14, 1958, over the West Indies, with its passenger dead for five months. On August 19, 1960, a space flight brought back to life two dogs sent into space, Belka and Strelka, paving the way for the first manned flight by Soviet Yuri Gagarin, on April 12, 1961.

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