It's the stuff of canine legends. Fifty years ago Laika the dog went from stray zero to hero when the Soviet Union strapped her to Sputnik 2 and launched it into the cold reaches of outer space. The trailblazing pooch, who had a statue to her unveiled in Russia last week, proved that living things could survive in space. Her trip also paved the way for more ambitious human-related endeavors, like John's Glenn's historic orbit, the Apollo 11 moon landing and Tom Hanks' career. Laika eventually died an excruciating death from overheating when life support failed a few hours after launch, for which Russia recognized her with a monument. All that sacrifice, and just a statue?
Laika's statue resides outside the Moscow military research facility where her flight team prepared the original space mission in 1957. Reuters reports the monument features the hot dog standing atop a rocket.
Like all dogs used in the Soviet space program Laika was a stray. Strays were selected because Soviet doctors apparently believed the mean streets of Moscow were similar to conditions experienced in space. Small dogs were selected due to the size constraints of the Sputnik 2 capsule, but at least Laika got to travel in style with this custom space suit-complete with euthanasia needle and feeding trough!
"Laika was quiet and charming," Dr. Vladimir Yazdovsky wrote in his book about Soviet space medicine. He even took the dog home to play with his children. "I wanted to do something nice for her: She had so little time left to live," he said. After fetch with the kids, Yazdovsky launched Laika into space, attached to a fuel-filled tin can with no parachute, and into history. We should all be so lucky. [Images: Telstar Logistics and Reuters]