Less than a month after the
groundbreaking Sputnik 1 satellite launched, the Soviet Union
pushed orbital launches even further by sending the first living passenger – a dog named Laika – into orbit
Fifty years ago this week, t
he 508-kilogram Sputnik 2 launched
aboard a modified R-7 ICBM from the Tyuratam Launch Complex, now called BaikonurCosmodrome, in Kazakhstan.
Still in high spirits
from the launch of
Sputnik 1, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev ordered SergeiKorolev, known as the chief designer, to launch a second satellite to mark
the 40th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. But the satellite that eventually became Sputnik 3,
was not ready. So with less than four weeks to prepare another satellite for launch, Korolev’s team
cut steps in design and used equipment from the first Sputnik.
“All traditions developed in rocket technology were thrown out [during work on the second satellite],” Boris Chertok, deputy to Korolev, wrote in his memoirs, the four-volume “Rockets and Men” published in the 1990s
. “The second satellite was created without preliminary design, or any kind of design.” Sketches were used often in place of proper designs and engineers assisted workers at production facilities, he wrote.
Like its predecessor, this second satellite launch was a propaganda boon for the Soviet Union, proving the Soviets could send a living organism into orbit and that the first launch was neither a hoax nor dumb luck as some
Dubbed “Muttnik” by some in the U.S. press, the stray was one of several female dogs that were trained for spaceflight
The primary scientific reason for Sputnik 2 was to observe a biological organism in orbit to prepare for a manned spaceflight, according to space history articles on NASA’s Web site.
Other animals, including mice, monkeys, chimpanzees and dogs, had been launched previously on sounding rockets by scientists in both the U.S. and Soviet space programs
During the mission, Laika was stored in an insulated,
pressurized cabin that severely restricted her movement. It contained a carbon dioxide absorption device to prevent a buildup of carbon dioxide
from poisoning her, an oxygen generator, an oxygen regulator to prevent oxygen toxicity and a fan that turned on automatically when temperatures climbed above
15 degrees Celsius. A gelatinized form of food and water also was provided.
Electrodes were fitted to Laika that monitored
her blood pressure, breath frequency and heartbeat, and the data
relayed back to command. A television camera also was installed to keep tabs on the dog.
Two spectrophotometers on the spacecraft
measured solar radiation
at ultraviolet and X-ray wavelengths
, as well as
Unfortunately for Laika the Soviets had yet to develop the necessary heat-shielding to protect the spacecraft and its passenger from
the extreme temperatures of atmospheric re-entry.
Long-term life support systems also had not yet
The Soviet Union admitted soon after launch that Laika would not be returning to Earth
. But it was not until recently
that Russia told the true story of her fate.
At the time,
the Soviet Union said
died on her sixth day
in orbit when the satellite’s electrical batteries died.
according to NASA historians, Laika
died from heat exhaustion only a day or two after launch
. The temperature inside her cabin rose to 40 degrees Celsius when the rocket’s upper stage
failed to separate, damaging the temperature controls and tearing some of the insulation.
Sputnik 2 disintegrated during its re-entry into
Earth’s atmosphere April 14, 1958.
The little dog became a symbol of the age with her image emblazoned on postcards, stamps
and cigarette packages worldwide.