Her name was Laika. She was the first living creature ever to journey from the Earth's surface into the cold and lonely darkness of space. But she never returned. You see, her journey aboard the Russian satellite Sputnik 2 was designed from the start to be a one-way ticket.
Picked from obscurity off the streets of Moscow and catapulted into space aboard the second satellite to ever orbit the Earth, Laika was the lone crew member aboard the 1,110 lb. Russian vessel that hurled her into the history books and the hearts of the people she left back on Earth on November 3, 1957.
Dubbed "Mutnik" by the American press, Laika, which means "Bark" in Russian, was an unwilling instrument of the Cold War and a pawn in the U.S. - Soviet Space Race that was very much the backdrop of U.S.- Soviet relations at the time. The Space Race between the then two Super Powers had begun a month earlier with the launching of the unmanned Sputnik 1 satellite. Laika, the brave but ill-fated canine, was hermetically sealed in a capsule that traveled nearly 18,000 miles per hour more than 900 miles above the Earth's surface launched from the tip of a specially-converted Intercontinental Ballistic Missle (ICBM).
Laika, like the other dogs that were chosen to be in the space program, was selected because of her ability to remain calm for long periods of time during extensive tests that preceeded the flight. The dogs were taught to live in small modules, wear space clothing and eat specially prepared, jelly-like food. To get them ready for the deafening roar of the rockets and their thundering vibrations, a simulator was used to help the dogs adapt. During the flight, special microphones attached to the dog's chest allowed ground control crews to listen and monitor the heroic dog's heartbeats.
Before Laika, Russia had two other canine cosmonauts that almost made it into space, flying in a rocket 43 miles above the Earth. The dogs returned in their capsules by parachute and came back alive. Laika's spacecraft had no descent capsule, so she burned up along with the satellite as it returned to the Earth's atmosphere. A plaque commemorating the contributions of Laika and other animals that were studied in the space program was unveiled in late 1997 at the Institute for Aviation and Space Medicine in Moscow.