It’s 60 years almost to the day since the Russians launched a dog into space to prove that living things could survive space flight.

The only problem was the dog died and not long after take off.

Laika was a stray the Russians found on the streets of Moscow, placed in the spaceship Sputnik II and fired into orbit.

Unfortunately for the dog there were never any plans for a return flight.

One of the technicians who prepared the space capsule said that, “after placing Laika in the container and before closing the hatch, we kissed her nose and wished her bon voyage, knowing that she would not survive the flight.”

The launch was designed to show that a living creature could survive the force of the launch as well as the effects of zero gravity, paving the way for space travel by humans themselves.

It might have seemed like a good idea at the time but the exercise sparked outrage from animal lovers around the world.

In Britain the BBC’s switchboard was jammed by irate callers, even before the announcer had finished reading the news.

The RSPCA’s switchboard was also bombarded with calls and forced to tell protesters to call the Soviet embassy direct – what’s more, they happily gave out the Embassy’s phone number.

The League Against Cruel Sports expressed “horror and contempt” at the actions of the Russians “beside which the sickening stories of the inhuman cruelties of the Middle Ages fade into insignificance.”

As the backlash continued to swell the National Canine Defence League appealed for a minute’s silence at 11am every day.

Then there wasLady Munnings, the outraged wife of the Royal Academy’s former president, who suggested, “Instead of dogs, why not use child murderers, who just get life sentences and have a jolly good time in prison?”

As protesters threatened to storm the Russian Embassy in London, First Secretary Yuri Modin was forced to make a statement.

“The Russians love dogs. This has been done not for the sake of cruelty but for the benefit of humanity,” he said.

Although the Russians insisted the dog died painlessly after about a week in orbit, an official revealed in 2002 that Laika had actually died from panic and overheating within hours of takeoff.

Five to seven hours into the flight, there were no further signs of life.

The saga came to a fiery closure five months later, on April 14, 1958, when Sputnik II with Laika’s remains on board burned up on re-entry.

 

Riley

Chris Riley has been a journalist for almost 40 years. He has spent half of his career as a writer, editor and production editor in newspapers, the rest of the time driving and writing about cars both in print and online. His love affair with cars began as a teenager with the purchase of an old VW Beetle, followed by another Beetle and a string of other cars on which he has wasted too much time and money. A self-confessed geek, he’s not afraid to ask the hard questions - at the risk of sounding silly.