"On This Day" In Engineering History Blog

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November 3, 1957: Sputnik 2 and Laika the Dog

Posted November 03, 2006 6:00 AM by Steve Melito

Forty-nine years ago today, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 2, the second spacecraft launched into orbit above the Earth and the first to carry an animal, a dog named Laika. On November 3, 1957, an R-7 rocket blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at Tyuratam, Kazakhstan for a 10-day mission. Its payload, Sputnik 2, was a cone-shaped metal capsule with separate compartments for radio transmitters, scientific instruments, a telemetry system, and an air regeneration and temperature control system. Laika, a part-Samoyed terrier whose name means "Barker" in Russian, was sealed in a padded, pressurized cabin and fitted with electrodes that monitored her vital signs. Both food and water were dispensed in a gelatinized form.

Sputnik 2 was launched a month and a day after Sputnik 1, but did not match the success of the world's first artificial satellite. Though equipped with Geiger counters, Sputnik 2 was unable to detect the Van Allen radiation belts, bands of charged particles trapped by the Earth's magnetic field. The second Soviet spacecraft also failed to sustain Laika for the duration of the mission. Soon after Sputnik 2 reached orbit, its thermal control system malfunctioned and some of the insulation tore loose. As cabin temperatures reached 40° C, plans to euthanize Laika with a poisoned serving of food became unnecessary. In October 2002, Russian sources revealed that Laika died from overheating and stress after spending just a few hours in orbit. Today, the canine cosmonaut is commemorated at Moscow's monument To the Conquerors of Space.

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