Laika the Soviet Space dog 1957On November 3, 1957, Laika became the first living being to orbit the Earth. She was launched on Sputnik 2 as part of the Soviet space exploration program, with the USSR locked in a heated race against the United States to conquer space.

A stray mutt from the streets of Moscow, Laika was described as being calm and quiet, complying obediently with her training. It included standing still for long periods of time, wearing space suits, being placed in simulators that acted like a rocket during launch, riding in centrifuges that simulated the high acceleration of a rocket launch and being kept in progressively smaller cages to prepare her for the confines of the space module. Oblivious to the plans set in place for her, Laika unequivocally trusted her caretakers, who ended up betraying her. The space shuttle was designed to not be retrievable.

Laika in the midst of her training.

Laika in the midst of her training.

She died within hours of the launch from extreme stress and overheating. Her heart was beating at triple its normal rate, and she was subjected to temperatures topping 100 degrees Fahrenheit as the capsule’s cooling system proved to be ineffective. Sputnik 2 continued to orbit the Earth for five months with her remains, disintegrating upon reentry into the atmosphere.

Altogether, the USSR sent 48 dogs into space. Three years after Laika’s launch, Oleg Gazenko, a senior Soviet scientist involved in the project, adopted a dog from another space mission – Krasavka. She lived out the rest of her life with his family for 14 years. Gazenko carried the guilt of sending Laika to her death for decades. “The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it. We shouldn’t have done it. We did not learn enough from this mission to justify the death of the dog,” he stated during a Moscow press conference in 1998. “When you understand that you can’t bring back Laika, that she perishes out there, and that no one can bring her back…that is a very heavy feeling. After I returned to Moscow from the launch, I left town. I wanted to isolate myself,” he told a Russian reporter.

Laika Space dog

Laika in her capsule, in preparation for her launch.

During many years of Soviet state propaganda, Laika’s launch into space was deemed an act of heroism, as though she had given her consent to participate. Her likeness was used to sell everything from cigarette cartons to children’s toys, and monuments were erected in her honor.

Various Soviet-era Laika paraphernalia.

Various Soviet-era Laika paraphernalia. The plate reads, “Laika – the first traveler in space.” Image: ©Fuel Publishing

Each year, over 50 billion farm animals are killed around the world – nearly eight times the human population. These numbers do not include the billions used for fashion, sport and entertainment. Their suffering is as profound as Laika’s, but they are not lauded as heroes. Just like Laika, they are commodities, used to sell products – themselves turned into products, their needs disregarded and their status as sentient beings erased.

Chained elephants in Nepal, awaiting to be used for elephant rides.

Chained elephants in Nepal, awaiting to be used for elephant rides.

Pig gestation crates

Pigs kept in gestation crates in the United States, unable to turn around or stand up.

Laika’s story represents not only the continued needless exploitation of animals at the hands of humans, but our paradoxical and arrogant relationship with them. In their innocence and vulnerability, they look to us for mercy and protection. But we betray them. And with this, we chip away at our conscience. There is no gain in exploiting other living beings, there is only loss — the loss of our humanity.

LAIKA magazine is a tribute to Laika the space dog and to all animals treated unjustly. It is a message of hope that we can repair and rebuild our relationship with our fellow earthlings. In the pages of LAIKA lies the proof that it is entirely possible to live a life free of harming others. This life is possible for each one of us, thanks to our innate sense of compassion and our ability to discern between right and wrong. Veganism simply means allowing compassion and justice to transcend the boundaries between species.

by Julie Gueraseva