It comes up as trivia when you’re learning about the history of space exploration that the first animal to orbit the Earth was a dog. But it’s actually amazing that a dog would be the first to do so. Humans could have had the vanity to make themselves the first. Or they might have sent a worm, or mouse, or chimpanzee.
Although a suicide mission (or canicide technically), it was a symbolic send up for canines, our partners on a journey of co-evolution and technological progress.
Laika was a stray dog from Moscow, living on the streets one week before the launch. She flew aboard Sputnik 2 in 1957 and passed away hours after reaching orbit.1
Her pedigree is unknown, but NASA refers to Laika as a part-Samoyed terrier.
Her name meant “the barker”, but she wasn’t one. She got along with Albina, meaning “white”, who was the backup dog. Russian spaceflight engineers were more attached to Albina, who had recently had puppies.
Before the launch, a mission scientist took Laika home to play with his children. Dr. Vladimir Yazdovsky wrote, "Laika was quiet and charming…I wanted to do something nice for her [because] she had so little time left."2
Astronaut is among the most prestigious jobs any dog has ever had. I think the more dogs we have in important jobs the better. We’ve had dog mayors and ambassadors. If we don’t have more nonsense like that in the future then what are we even doing?
I’m hoping for a resurgence in blimps, a.k.a. rigid airships; especially after reports of unexplained objects in the upper atmosphere and spy balloons. Since there’s precedence for dog astronauts, blimps should be co-piloted by dogs. You know a dog would have smelled hydrogen leaking on the Hindenburg and called off the flight.