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Memories of LAIKA DIES IN SPACE

There are things that are known and things that are unknown; in between is exploration. Someone had to pay the final price for achieving their goal. Not that she ever wanted to, nobody asked her. She was the chosen one.

She walked the streets of Moscow in beauty, with dignity, though homeless. Her ancestry was not known for certain except that she was born somewhere in that country. Her destiny was determined by the greed of mankind. They called her Laika.


Homage to Laika, a dog who perished in space


For thousands and thousands of years humans have gazed from our small world upon the cosmic ocean. They have discovered stars and planets. But that was not enough. They wanted more. They wanted to reach beyond the unreachable. They wanted to be able to see the outer world, they wanted to investigate the regions of the stars, planets and go even further, but first they had to learn how to calculate the orbit of the Earth. And they did. They started to build the first artificial satellites - called Sputniks. Sputnik 1 went to the orbit alone, emitting radio signals only. Nobody was hurt. Again it was not enough. Again they wanted more. They wanted to know what effects orbiting our planet would leave on a living being. They knew Sputnik 2 would never come back, that it would fly endless weeks in the space, so they couldn't risk sending a human being there. They thought for a while and then decided, or even better Nikita Khrushchev did.- Why not send a dog. Our country is the land of stray dogs and cats. I know the dog won't survive, so what. Who would care about a dog, anyway? So go and pick one, run all the tests on it and launch it into the orbit. And you better hurry. We mustn't let those capitalists outpass us. I give you less than a month.
Doctors, engineers and scientists in Moscow research center knew they had little choice. Declining their Party leader's order would mean Siberia or even worse. They had families and children, they were afraid for their security. There was no way out of it. So they hurried and picked out a dog. They picked Laika.

The Space Race began.


Moscow, 1957


Moscow is a city of contrast. The past and present is imprinted both in buildings and people. It reflects on many unsmiling faces, still affected by their country's' turbulent history. Moscow is also the land of thousands of unwanted cats and dogs, the so-called strays. And strays form an important part of the country's character and of its nation.

Winters are unpleasant there, the bitter cold and heavy winds sweep the city and darken the short days. The river freezes, the streets are icy and slippery and for strays each day is a fight for survival. But animals are smart, they know where to hide. There are always warmer places in the Moscow underground.

One day, no one knows the exact date, three dogs nap in one of the metro stations. One of them, a beautiful female mutt, rises, wanders a few steps to some discarded potatoes, sniffs, takes a bite then goes back to sleep, hoping there will be some more food tomorrow. For her hunger represents nothing new, in her short life she has learned how to endure conditions of thirst and starvation. And there are always dreams, dreams of hope and of a better tomorrows. And with dreams there comes a vision, where she sees herself somewhere warm, with someone who feeds her regularly, who protects her, with whom she can play and what she yearns for most, someone who would love her. She has so much love in her little heart but no one was willing to take it. But she is still dreaming, maybe one day......

The dog smiles in her dreams. She doesn't know she has just been spotted, together with two other female companions. If she knew why she was chosen her dreams would turn into nightmares and she would run away as fast as she could. But she doesn't know. And when one of the men approaches with a sausage in his hand, she wakes up and smiles again. He seems kind, he doesn't kick her like so many others, he doesn't even yell at her, he pats her beautiful head and talks to her softly. And that sausage!! She is a little scared when another man throws a net over her, but the net doesn't hurt, besides they keep talking to her, their voices are kind, not harsh. They put her in a car and take the net away, they give her another piece of sausage, and they promise her water and a place to sleep. Her dreams have come true. And she likes how they call her. Finally she was given a name like a true doggie. They call her LAIKA. And she is smiling again. She is happy.

There is a lot of speculation why Laika was selected to become the first cosmonaut, but the fact is she had everything they needed. She was beautiful, good natured, photogenic - they knew one day soon her pictures would circle the world - she was small, she weighed only 6 kilos ( 13lbs), she was a female so she didn't need to stand while urinating, and she was a stray, used to hardship of the streets, they knew she would be able to endure long periods of inactivity, therefore she perfectly suited for the harsh conditions of the training.

When they bring her to her new home she is a little disappointed. In her vision she pictures human homes differently but still she doesn't complain. She has a good nature and tries hard to please her new masters. When some more people -- her future handlers and trainers- approach her she timidly raises her paw as if wanting to shake their hands, expressing her gratitude and promising loyalty. She feels no doubt that they too will keep their word. Didn't they give her a sausage and a dish of fresh water and that feeling was so great, she never drank from a dish before. And what makes her even happier is that she is not the only doggie there, there are some more and they all look friendly even if a little exhausted. And they are all in small cages and they wear white clothes. How funny, she giggles. Sweet little Laika had no idea it was the last time she would sleep on the floor, her jail-cage was already waiting.

The very next day Laika's training begins. Laika spends many hours in the science lab. Their training includes standing still for long periods of time wearing space suit, being placed in simulators that accelerate like a rocket launch, and being kept in progressively smaller cages to prepare her for the confines of the space capsule. They perform a short surgery on her, inflating a tiny balloon in her artery to observe her blood pressure during stressful testing.

She doesn't really like this game, but Laika is a smart dog and she learns quickly, Soon she knows what they want from her. So she decides she won't complain, after all they never really hurt, still she would rather go out and play with the other doggies or just nap in the corner. Besides she is never alone, they must really love her so much as more and more people are staying with her, patting her, affectionately calling her other names, she especially likes Kudryavka (Little Curly). Still she wonders what is wrong with her body. She was a stray once but she has never been sick, so why would they prick her all the time with those needles and why do they shave her neck and put her under short periods of unconsciousness. She doesn't want to be half shaved after all they picked her out for her beauty and she wants to stay pretty for them. And they change her meals. No more sausages only gelatin food, which she doesn't really like but again she decides to keep it to herself. She wants to keep their love and attention, so a little hardship won't really hurt. And maybe one day soon they would stop putting her in that small cage, where she feels so squeezed and uncomfortable.

Time was running fast, the dateline was approaching and they ran more and more tests on Laika. I am trying to focus on Laika or Kadryavka - Little Curly, as this name was given to her out of affection, while Laika is every other stray dog in Russia. It is not a real name, in their language Laika means barker.

The very next day Laika's training begins. Laika spends many hours in the science lab. The training includes standing still for long periods of time wearing space suit, being placed in simulators that accelerate like a rocket launch, and being kept in progressively smaller cages to prepare her for the confines of the space capsule. They put her in a centrifuge, they perform a short surgery on her, inflating a tiny balloon in her artery to observe her blood pressure during stressful testing. And they do much more. I decided to skip details, they can be found on hundreds of websites dedicated to Laika.

She doesn't really like this game, but Laika is a smart dog and she learns quickly, Soon she knows what they want from her. So she decides she won't complain, after all they never really hurt, still she would rather go out and play with the other doggies or just nap in the corner. Besides she is never alone, they must really love her so much as more and more people are staying with her, patting her, affectionately calling her other names, she especially likes the man who calls her Kudryavka (Little Curly). Still she wonders what is wrong with her body. She was a stray once but she has never been sick, so why would they prick her all the time with those needles and why do they shave her neck and put her under short periods of unconsciousness. She doesn't want to be half shaved after all they picked her out for her beauty and she wants to stay pretty for them. And they changed her meals. No more sausages only gelatin food, which she doesn't really like but again she decides to keep it to herself. She wants to keep their love and attention, so a little hardship won't really hurt. And maybe one day soon they would stop putting her in that small cage, where she feels so squeezed and uncomfortable.


I must be honest and say that due to my resources life at the institute wasn't all work only. Many of them got really attached to this wonderful doggie, they talked to her, patted her, they took her for a walk, (she had to wear harness to be prevented from any hurt). Deep inside they felt a huge regret and they knew the guilt of having to help to send her on a one way trip would stay with them forever. But they also knew what it would mean to break the orders. One could play games with an innocent doggie, but never with a Party leader.

And there was one or two who had a very special bond with little curly dog. She too loved him and trusted him completely. And he was the one who showed Laika the home of her dreams. The day of launch was almost there so he took her to his own home. Just for a few hours, but stepping through that door for Laika was like entering heaven. The place was the very image of her vision. And her trust and love for her Master grew even stronger.

This is what he wrote in his book. " Laika was quiet and charming, I wanted to do something nice for her. She had so little time left to live".

While writing this tribute I found some additional information on Russian sites. I have quoted it in a shortened way. Those words broke my heart.

"Laika was playing with kids, when she saw their mother sitting still, her eyes wet with tears. Laika went to her; she put her head on the lady's lap and looked at her as if she was saying: "Why are you crying? You have a beautiful home. I like you and I like your kids. And your man has always been nice to me. I love him and I trust him. But I could love you too. I already do. You seem so kind, why are you crying? Perhaps you want to keep me. I wouldn't mind, they are not bad there, but I could really stay with you and your kids for a while. Would you too make me wear a white suit and helmet? Would you too put me in that noise things that turns around and makes me sick and dizzy? I don't think you would. I know I would be free here and run and jump with your kids. Maybe I could sleep in a real bed instead in that cage. It is so small, I can't move and I feel so alone there. I will tell to you only, that I am scared too, I really don't like their games anymore. I I am still young, I can change, I can still learn other games. I am a good doggie. So maybe you could think and take me in.....

A tear fell on lady's hand, gently stroking Laika's coat. Laika licked it and the woman left the room, sobbing loudly.

The man took Laika back to the research centre. He was not a politician, nor a scientist. He was a doctor. Privately, as an insider, he had always felt this mission was less about science and more about beating the other nation. Laika was just an innocent victim.

And he never despised and hated his leader as deeply as on that day."

Moscow, 31st October -- 3rd November

Laika was taken out for her last walk before being fitted with space garments and sensors. A short time later she began the complicated process of being adapted to her space gear. Her coat was carefully sponged with a weak alcohol solution and then she was thoroughly groomed with a fine-toothed comb. Then select parts of her chest were shaved so that electrodes could be surgically implanted to measure her pulse. I could go on with more details but I won't. They are not that important. What is really important is what Laika was thinking and feeling at that moment.

Sputnik 2 was originally scheduled for launch on 31st October, but technical problems delayed the launch by three days, and Laika remained all the time in the cabin at the top of the spacecraft. All alone, confused and scared. She was put in that capsule before, but never for so long. So she waited. And she still hoped. She had to believe they would stop playing with her and take her out. She was so tired. And where was her Master? Why was he hiding from her?

One of the handlers describes her eyes were wide open with wonder; another one said they were wide open with deadly fear. Inside the tiny capsule darkness gave way to a feeble light and this filled Laika with the last ray of hope that the game was over. Through the small porthole she studied workers hoping to lock her eyes with her favorite master's. But he stood at the back, he couldn't handle it, it was too much for him. He knew Laika would never leave that capsule again. He knew she was already in her own coffin, getting ready to fly above the sky never to come back.

Master was sad. Like so many during those terrible times he was caught up in events, which he was powerless to change. And he was ashamed of his own country. His Laika stayed in that capsule for 3 days. The long waiting in the tiny capsule made Laika restless, her diaper bag was soiled and at this rate her overall condition would be degraded before the flight began. So he finally gathered courage and slowly approached her and said: - Kudryavka, my little one, be brave, be brave for the Motherland, be brave for me and for you, the world will always know you as Laika. But for me you will be Little Curly girl, my Kadryavka. Laika saw him and she heard him but she didn't understand what he was saying. She hoped he came to take her out. She tried to wag her tail, but she couldn't, the capsule was too small. She could see her masters eyes drowning in tears and again she wondered why. All he had to do was to open the door and let her out. She waited and waited, and suddenly she realized he wasn't there to help her and her little heart shrank with pain. With natural canine cunning, Laika sensed that something was different about this training session.
Perhaps it was the sad look in her Masters eyes. She knew that her master was not a bad person, but he too was just a human. She didn't trust humans anymore. He trapped her with that sausage and she believed he really cared for her. As for him she could have been a million years away. She was on her own again. And she was so tired. She was going to take a short nap, maybe hoping that it was all nightmare and she would wake up in her favourite dream, in her vision. A nice, cosy home with two kids and a lady.

Laika drifted slowly from drowsiness to reality. She was still in a capsule and couldn't hear anything, but her canine instinct told her something unusual was going on. She never heard the countdown, but she could feel a motion of the capsule? Suddenly Laika was shocked back into reality when she felt an abrupt end of forward motion! The sensation was as if she was falling, dust, metal filings and a lost
screw floated near her head. Only on special airplane rides during training had she briefly experienced such a feeling. But it was different now. She was weightless, and heading for the orbit. Then suddenly she felt an upward lurch, for the last time her eyes spotted her master, their eyes still locked on each other she caught her last glimpse of him and then the darkness came. She barked, her heart rate jumped with fear and some moments later she was on her way up, up to the sky.

Nobody ever saw her again.


Meanwhile her Master worked frantically to scale out the beeps, he was hoping to extract a reading on cabin temperature. He was shocked, if telemetry was correct; Laika's cabin was like an oven. He also sensed a failing heartbeat on his monitor, but she was still alive. % hours have passed since his little curly was launched into space. She must be terrified, he thought. She is suffocating, she is the last stage of heat exhaustion, she must frantically look around for me He has always been proud to be part of space research, but this time he felt dirty. He betrayed the trust of his four-legged friend, he has known from the beginning this was a suicide mission. He quickly raised his eyes above the glass roof.
"Don't let her suffer anymore", he whispered in prayer

I really don't know what else there is to say. Laikas's story is more than just her own. She died for you and me, she died for mankind. People whom she trusted betrayed her, each one of them. She was sent on her tragic fatal mission against her will. Until that door closed forever she still thought it was a game, that the bond she established with some was real and would last to the end. Her unprecedented journey took her from the snowy Moscow streets to top secret labs and finally to the stars. She died alone, she died terrified, and she never knew why.

She was the first little canine cosmonaut whose ultimate sacrifice turned dreams of human space travel into reality.

For a long time Laika's death was a top secret. A top secret which included many propaganda and lies. It was said that she was lucky as one day she would become the world's most famous dog, her pictures would be printed around the world, everyone would talk about her as of the first living being who ever entered the space. But they didn't ask: DID Laika wish for that? Did she ever want to become a top dog? A celebrity? Dogs never reach for the stars. They only want to have a dish of fresh water, some food and to feel love. Laika trusted so many in that lab. She loved many but no one really loved her enough or they wouldn't have let her go. I wonder how they felt while planning her death, while putting poison in her food that would be consumed on the 10th day. Luckily she never lived that long. And nobody really knows how she died. It is thought she died in the first 5-7 hours after reaching orbit. But who nose for sure? No one was there with her. In my opinion she died of stress, overheating, of fear, loneliness but mostly of a broken heart. She was the victim of the most ruthless exploitation of innocent animals for dubious benefits.

Laika touched the stars before she died and she touched the hearts and minds of generations. Animal welfare organizations expressed outrage at news that the Russians have sent a dog into outer space. The National Canine Defence League was calling on all dog lovers to observe a minute's silence. Many protested at the United Nations, with placards read "Send up Nikita"-

Her master was true. Laika became the most famous dog in the world.

There are still so many questions about what was going on with Laika behind scenes but the only true anwers Laika took away with her -entering the atmosphere in the capsule....her coffin.

I find her story the tip of human betrayal.

"My greatest mistake was Laika, because at that time we did not know how to return a capsule to earth.

Many years later another man, whom she trusted, said :

The more time passes, the more I am sorry about it. We shouldn't have done it. We did not learn enough from this mission to justify the death of the dog.

." .
Anyone who knows the story of Laika should be aware how much we all owe to this dog. This tribute is for Laika but at the same time it is my ode to all animals used in space research, no matter what country they come from. It is my homage to the animals that we befriend and love and, that ultimately we destroy. Laika and so many other animals paid the price for humanity for reaching for more than God was ready to give share with us.


Nowadays Laika is more honoured nad remembered than her human fellow country man, Yuri Gagaryn. I don't think it would make any difference to her. She never longed for fame, all she wanted was to be loved.

Her story brings to mind not the glorious dawn of space travel but rather of the torment experienced by one trusting dog for a few hours in a capsule in space. I'm not sure, other than I just wanted everyone to remember her.

Rest in peace, lost doggie.

When one of her handlers died a few years ago his last words were: "Forgive me, Laika.

Yes little, Little Curly, I too am asking for your forgiveness. Forgive me in the name of the mankind that sadly I am part of. The earth lost a nice dog and the sky has found a new star in you.


I would like to thank my dear friend Angel Duckie for being there for me while writing about this sad story, for helping me with researches and most of all for encouraging me.
Her words that Laika didn't die alone in that space, that God was with her all the time brought me some solace. So in her last moments she finally felt what she was looking for. A true and real love. Now she sleeps in God's hands, safe and never to be betrayed again.

My special thanks go to Maria and Paul. In their wonderful song Laika lives forever.


9/8/2009

Dearest Laika, a very special person paid you a visit. His name is Aaron George Bailey and he has dedicated a whole web page in your memory. He spent years in doing extensive research not only about your life, but also about your masters, Sputnik and the Cold War. If not for his amazing work this tribute would not have been written and touched so many people. I really am so grateful and honoured he found time and signed your guest book, we both owe him so much. Wherever you are sweet Laika, I know you are smiling, as long as there are people like Aaron your memory will never fade.

Aaron, thank you again.

link to the site: cold-war-sputnik-soviet-space-dog-laika.com

11/3/2010


Little curly girl today marks the 53rd year anniversary since that final betrayal. It was the day you, the bravest little dog ever, never expected to come; they who you trusted the most sent on you an infinite journey with no return, they chose you to die the loneliest of deaths, farther from human warmth than any creature has ever been before. You were sacrificed in the name of the Science without being given the right to decline. What would you say to us if you could talk, Laika? Would you tell us about that silence in your tiny silver coffin that made your body shrink with fear or about the heat that wouldn't let you breathe. What would be your final statement before like a tiny falling star you perished into that dark empty sky, where your ony companions were indescribable horror and sorrow. You died for the mankind, for each one of us.You truly were a pioneer, a Hero of both the animal kingdom and our greedy human world. You never longed for fame, all you wanted is to be loved. Now you are loved by so many, but for you love came too late. R.I.P. little curly, wherever you are.


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