Sunday, April 13, 2014

Moments in History

The last canine post . . .

Between 1947 and 1991 there was a “Cold War” between the Western Bloc (the US and NATO pact countries) on one side and the Eastern Bloc (Russia and its Warsaw Pact allies) on the other side. It was termed the Cold War because there was no actual fighting. One aspect of the rivalry between the US and Russia was the Space Race, a competition between 1955 and 1972 for supremacy in spaceflight capability. Not only was supremacy in space seen as symbolic of ideological and political superiority, the technological superiority required for such supremacy was seen as necessary for national security.

On October 4, 1957, the Soviets were the first to successfully launch a rocket into space with their launch of Sputnik 1, a  satellite much larger than those we are used to today.   

Sputnik 1

The word "sputnik" means "fellow traveller" or "travelling companion", in this case a fellow traveller with the earth.

Suitably impressed, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev notified the space flight ebgineers shortly afterwards that he wanted another rocket launched into space in 3 weeks to mark the 40th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. 

On 2 November 1957 the Russians launched Sputnik 2.

Wanting something extra to add more oomph to the occasion, the space flight engineers had placed a dog on board, Laika (meaning “barker" in Russian).  Laika, a stray dog (it was felt that strays would be tougher and hardier), was a female part-Samoyed terrier originally named Kudryavka (Little Curly).

The area in which she was confined was large enough to either sit or lie down and she was able to access gelatinous food. She was also fitted with sensors to monitor heartbeat and respiration.  A bag collected waste and she was wired to electrodes to monitor vital signs.

The spacecraft circled the earth every hour and forty-two minutes, travelling approximately 18,000 miles per hour. 

As the world watched and questioned how she would be brought home, the Soviets revealed that Laika would not be coming home, at least not alive. The short period to build the rocket had not allowed for a recovery plan.

Although there were various conjectures as to how Laika died and at what stage, it was finally revealed in 2002 that she died within 2 days and possibly within hours after launch from overheating, possibly caused by a failure of the central thermal control system.  In addition, part of the thermal insulation tore losse, resulting in temperatures of 40 degrees inside the capsule. The Soviets had, at the time, claimed that she had been euthanased by being fed a final poisoned meal; other reports claimed that she had survived the schedule 6 days and died from oxygen depletion.

On the sixth day the batteries in the spacecraft died and all life-support systems failed. The spacecraft continued to orbit the earth with all its systems off until it re-entered earth's atmosphere on April 14, 1958 and burned up on re-entry.

Although Laika proved that it was possible for a living being to enter space, her death also sparked animal rights debates across the planet. In the Soviet Union, Laika and all the other animals that made space flight possible are remembered as heroes.

Future space missions carrying dogs would be designed to be recovered. The only other dogs to die in a Soviet space mission were Pchyolka and Mushka, who died when Korabl Sputnik 3 was purposely destroyed with an explosive charge upon re-entry in order to prevent foreign powers from inspecting the capsule due to a wayward atmospheric re-entry trajectory on December 1, 1960.

Monument to Laika in Moscow

The Monument to the Conquerors of Space, unveiled in Moscow in 1964, also features Laika:

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