The Soviet Union was responsible for many atrocities, but there was one particular dubious act that stirred controversy across the world, and further fuelled the divide in the Cold War. It was in 1957, on November 3rd, that Sputnik 2 was launched into space, and aboard the spacecraft was a dog called Laika.

Laika was a mongrel female who was found wandering the streets of Moscow. She was taken in by the Russian scientists and trained to sit still in a cramped container for several hours, to prepare her for the voyage. Sputnik 2 was launched in the early hours of the morning. While dogs had previously been sent into Earth’s atmosphere (and come back alive) Laika was the first animal to enter orbit. The scientists on the ground were monitoring her heartrate and other life signs, to measure the effect of space on a living being. Approximately five to seven hours into the flight, Laika died due to overheating in the spacecraft.

It had never been intended that Laika would come back to Earth. The scientists had left poisoned food on the craft, so that she could be euthanised in the event that she did not die from another cause, to avoid her simply starving to death over several days. That small element was about as close at the Soviets ever came to considering the dog’s welfare. Animal rights were given little consideration in the Soviet block, where communism stressed the need for pragmatism over wishy washy notions of right and wrong.


In the West, however, the cruel treatment of Laika did not go unnoticed. Animal rights organisations in the UK and the US took protests to the Soviet embassies and to the United Nations. The Western governments saw the political capital in this, and encouraged the protests. It became another propaganda tool to paint the Soviets as remorseless monsters who would happily sacrifice an innocent dog in the name of their mad ambition to conquer space. Of course, it was conveniently not mentioned that the US had sent a rhesus monkey into space in 1949, which had died when the parachute failed – although they had at least intended to bring the monkey back alive.

During the space race, many different animals were sent into space, and the majority came back alive. Those that didn’t tended to die due to technical problems. Laika was the notable exception, in that she was sent up there to die. It might be a small distinction, but it was enough to make a lot of people question where the ethical line should be drawn with use of animals in scientific research. Of course, many millions of animals are used each year in medical research, so the question hasn’t ended with the space race.

Perhaps because of the outrage, the Soviets designed all future dog flights to bring the animals back alive, so there would be no further backlash. Many decades later, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, one of the leading scientists on the project publicly apologised for allowing her to die an unnecessary and painful death.

Nonetheless, Laika was remembered as an emblem of progress and sacrifice in the Soviet Union. She was memorialised in statue form, and officially designated one of the Conquerers of Space. She was included on stamps and depicted in films. Her legacy has become twofold; as the first dog to orbit the Earth, and also as a cautionary tale about when ambition supersedes ethics.

Webinars this week:

Building rapport and demonstrating empathy within your team

by Joanna Woodnutt BVM BVS MRCVS

Going live: Tue 5th November 2019, 8:30 pm

Building rapport and demonstrating empathy are two of the most important communication skills vets can have, and client complaints often come off the back of vets seeming “cold”, “impersonal”, or “rushed”. But it is possible to learn how to communicate effectively, and in this webinar we’ll cover the most important parts of the consultation for building rapport and demonstrating empathy, as well as go through some practical scenarios and go-to phrases that immediately win brownie points.

Farm animal analgesia


Going live: Wed 6th November 2019, 8:00 pm

The aim of this webinar is to provide the farm animal and mixed practitioner with some theoretical and practical application of knowledge regarding our understanding of what pain is, how it manifests and what we can do to minimise its impact on welfare and production. This session will cover the drugs that are available and routes of administration and then apply this knowledge to some commonly encountered clinical scenarios.

Feline lymphoma, presentation, diagnosis and staging

by Aaron Harper MA VetMB CertAVP(SAM) DipECVIM-CA(Onc) MRCVS

Going live: Thu 7th November 2019, 8:30 pm

The webinar will focus on the varied presentation of lymphoma in cats. It will also include the tests necessary to establish a diagnosis and the utility of staging the disease prior to treatment.

One Comment

Minka Kulenovic

Thank you for sharing sad story, my generation knew that she went up but we never realized what actually happen on the way back. I must add that here in US not Russia still do many experiments on cats and dogs for many neurological human diseases kept in the special research labs and die from injected diseases, but the scientist did not found any new treatments done on these poor animals for humans…So there I am of my soap box.


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