Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99 per year.
Subscribe for Full Access

From Sad Planets, which will be published this month by Polity.

The first female in space was not, as is commonly thought, Valentina Tereshkova in 1963, but Laika the dog, nearly six years earlier. We tend to forget this. Space dogs in the Soviet program—of which there were dozens—were female, since there was no room in the nose cone of the rocket ships for male dogs to lift their legs up and relieve themselves. Laika herself was sourced, like all her canine cosmonaut comrades, from the streets of Moscow. Scientists poached amiable strays and brought them to the Institute of Aviation Medicine. Laika was ultimately chosen not only for her cool temperament under pressure but for her pleasing silhouette. She was selected to orbit Earth in Sputnik 2—a larger and more ambitious satellite than the original Sputnik. As a result, the Western media nicknamed Laika “Muttnik.” Under pressure to ensure this second launch was timed to coincide with the fortieth anniversary of the October Revolution, shortcuts appear to have been taken. Sputnik 2 took off successfully on November 3, 1957, and official Soviet news outlets reported a healthy passenger for the first few days. Decades later, we learned that these were in fact lies. Poor Laika perished about seven hours after liftoff, having endured terrible stress and unbearable temperatures (the latter were due to an issue with the thermal insulation). As a result, this first creature to leave Earth’s orbit, presumably in the history of the planet, circled the globe as a singed corpse for five long months before finally receiving an organic cremation when Sputnik 2 disintegrated while reentering Earth’s atmosphere on April 14, 1958, after circling the planet 2,570 times. English-language newspapers called Laika “the fuzziest, loneliest, unhappiest dog in the world.”


| View All Issues |

June 2024

“An unexpectedly excellent magazine that stands out amid a homogenized media landscape.” —the New York Times
Subscribe now