Before sending first dog to space, the only animals sent to space were fruit flies. Flies made it back alive, but in case of dog we are talking about a much more complex organism.

(source: wordpress.com)

Image Source: Time

What were expectations of scientists working on the project of sending a dog to space? Did they expect Laika to survive until reentry? What effects of space flight did they consider most threatening to dog's life in the situation? Did they perform any (not necessarily humane) experiments to determine the chances of success?


I should probably add extra clarification to my question. I knew Laika had no chance of making it back to Earth and would eventually die, during reentry if not earlier. But since the scientists were willing to risk her for this experiment, I assume they had some doubts whether a dog can survive a spaceflight even until the point of reentry (or they wouldn't do it in the first place, I believe...). So what is it that they expected to threaten Laika's life? Exposure to radiation? Effects of large forces excerted? What did her flight (dis)prove that was in question before? Did they perform any experiments in order to anticipate the outcome before the actual flight? I hope this helps to clear things up a bit and get answers to original question above.

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    $\begingroup$ I expect you to die Mr Bond^H^H^H^HLaika. $\endgroup$
    – geoffc
    Feb 19, 2016 at 21:14
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    $\begingroup$ Laika animated: vimeo.com/54536669 Really nicely done, sad, touching. $\endgroup$
    – geoffc
    Feb 19, 2016 at 21:16
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    $\begingroup$ According to this article on wikipedia, Laika's journey was one-way, that she would be euthanized, but a malfunction likely resulted in death from overheating. $\endgroup$
    – Anthony X
    Feb 20, 2016 at 14:49
  • $\begingroup$ It's interesting to note, that the Russian engineers who had no trouble working on weapons to kill billions of people had serious regrets about sending a dog to space to die later in life. $\endgroup$ Feb 22, 2016 at 16:16
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    $\begingroup$ @Rikki-Tikki-Tavi Were they the same engineers? $\endgroup$
    – Zano
    Feb 22, 2016 at 21:08

2 Answers 2


Laika was never expected to make it back alive because the Sputnik 2 capsule it was launched in didn't have any means of deorbiting. From Anatoly Zak's Russian Space Web page on Sputnik-2:

As remembered by Yevgeniy Shabarov, "after placing Laika in the container and before closing the hatch, we kissed her nose and wished her bon voyage, knowing that she would not survive the flight."

Its orbit eventually, in a bit under half a year (November 3, 1957 - April 14, 1958), decayed and the capsule reentered the Earth's atmosphere and most of it if not all would have burnt on reentry. It didn't have a reentry heat shield, no parachutes, and even if it did, the 500 kg something capsule wouldn't be able to keep sufficient life support (breathable air, scrubbing carbon dioxide, food, water, temperature and humidity control) provisions to keep even a small dog alive for such a long time.

Soviets, motivated to some degree also by the public outcry of mostly the Western media and later JFK's protest to Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna in 1961, even though there's documents attesting that such decision to sacrifice Laika for science was difficult to make on its own, nobody enjoyed it, some scientists working on the project publicly declared that science return did not justify her sacrifice, and later made every conceivable effort (and it has to be said they were years ahead at the time compared to US efforts) to equip the following capsules with deorbit motors, heat shield and parachutes, something that had yet to be developed, and they succeeded in returning canine visitors to the outer space back home alive.

Nikita Khrushchev later presented a gift to JFK's daughter Caroline, a puppy named Pushinka (Fluffy) that was one of Stelka's (Arrow) offspring. Strelka and Belka (Whitey) were in 1960 second and third dogs in Earth's orbit.

To answer your questions more directly:

  • What were expectations of scientists working on the project of sending a dog to space?

    To learn more about untill then mostly just theoretical limitations of travel to space and conditions in Earth's orbit. That Laika survived for only a few hours instead of the planned ten days and died due to overheating attests to our lack of knowledge of it at the time. Of course, there was also the prestige of sending first living being into orbit, but that was somewhat spoiled by the fact that Laika didn't survive it.

  • Did they expect Laika to survive until reentry?

    No. See above. Laika was selected by Vladimir Yazdovsky ten days before flight out of ten available dogs, one of which (but not Laika) had two previous suborbital flight experiences. Oleg Gazenko, one of project scientists, was later quoted:

    Work with animals is a source of suffering to all of us. We treat them like babies who cannot speak. 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.

    Reentry was roughly half a year away from the date of the launch. While the mission also served to measure orbital decay rate, Sputnik-1 as a precursor orbital mission did teach us enough not to expect Sputnik-2 to reenter any time soon enough for Laika's life support provisions to last. As rumor has it (and this isn't confirmed!), her last food ration was poisoned to euthanize her so she doesn't have to suffer any of the number of worse ways to go. It was one of the options being considered, but it is unknown if it has actually been implemented.

  • What effects of space flight did they consider most threatening to dog's life in the situation?

    Nobody really knew, but there were many theories. We didn't really know if microgravity is even survivable on its own for such a long time (Laika was expected to survive for 10 days). All microgravity experience with mammals we had before Sputnik-2 flight was on short, suborbital flight experiments. But most expected that either solar and cosmic rays radiation dose, or her heart giving up will end Laika's life, and there was instrumentation aboard Sputnik 2 to measure these sources of radiation and Laika's heart rate, blood pressure and breathing were measured.

  • Did they perform any (not necessarily humane) experiments to determine the chances of success?

    Small surgical procedure was necessary before flight to route cables from breathing, pulse and blood-pressure sensors to the transmitters. As stated before, these procedures wouldn't be inhumane and they're routinely performed nowadays on dogs before more difficult surgical procedures. I've seen it done many times. It involves tiny punctures through epidermis and shaving off a small spot of the dog's fur. It might be a bit unpleasant for a minute or two, but that's it.

  • $\begingroup$ Excellent, thank you! This is not the most pleasant subject for me to think or read about. But I had questions nonetheless. Now I am "free" for some time to come :) $\endgroup$
    – James C
    Feb 25, 2016 at 19:37
  • $\begingroup$ It is consoling, thanks. And I did get that impression from the quotes, it is easy to believe them. Also great to know about the BBC resources, thanks for sharing! $\endgroup$
    – James C
    Feb 25, 2016 at 20:02

According to the article on the unveiling of her statue:

All dogs used in the Soviet space program were stray mongrel dogs -- doctors believed they were able to adapt quicker to harsh conditions. All were small so they could fit into the tiny capsules.

The 2-year-old Laika was chosen for the flight just nine days before the launch.

Laika, first space dog in orbit

Stories about how she was selected varied: Some said Laika was chosen for her good looks -- a Soviet space pioneer had to be photogenic. Others indicated the top choice for the mission was dropped because doctors took pity on her: Since there was no way to design a re-entry vehicle in time for the launch, the flight meant a certain death.

"Laika was quiet and charming," Dr. Vladimir Yazdovsky wrote in his book chronicling the story of Soviet space medicine. He recalled that before heading to the launch pad, he 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," Yazdovsky said.

The Wiki goes on to say that they intended to euthanize Laika with an injection, but she perished due to the overheating of the capsule hours into the flight.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your answer, it is informative. Although I am asking a different thing. Reading carefully the questions under image should give a good impression of what I am after (or so I tried). $\endgroup$
    – James C
    Feb 25, 2016 at 17:16

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