Laika

Today a pretend starship captain made it to real outer space. I’ve been grumping about billionaires starting their own space programs, but it’s not necessarily a contradiction to think those bankrolling the operation are terrible people and still appreciate the push they’re giving the technology. Good people can make bad choices and horrible people sometimes have the right idea.

In short, nothing is as simple as we’d like it to be.

For instance, I’ve been beating my brains out over a simple word like ‘space’ but all that comes to me is the image of Laika in her little space capsule, Sputnik 2. She was the first creature from this planet to go into orbit. She was also a deliberate sacrifice on the altar of science.

I’m not sure when I found out that Laika went into orbit with no chance of returning safely. Laika was a stray. The Russians liked using strays for their early tests, mostly because they were used to a harsh life of deprivation and cold on the streets. Laika was one of several dogs tested for the mission, mostly by placing them into smaller and smaller crates to see which ones went the least insane. Laika, a spitz-husky mix, was the winner.

She was launched, depending on who you ask, with either seven days of food and oxygen or one day of food and seven days of oxygen. The alleged plan was to euthanize her with poisoned food before the oxygen ran out. Turned out to be a moot point. She was dead after four orbits when the cooling system of the capsule failed.

To be fair, at the time they knew how to get into orbit but not how to get out. That came later. Laika’s main job was to prove that higher mammals could survive orbit in micro-gravity. Reminds me of the earlier days of rail travel, when some people honestly believed no one could survive traveling forty miles an hour.

Laika traveled a lot faster than that. She did make a contribution to our knowledge of space. No, she wasn’t asked if she wanted any of that. Still, regular meals, warm bed. Better than the streets, I would imagine. She probably thought she was among friends. Until they strapped her into the capsule and sent her off to die. She did that for us, too.

Nature devised a plan for her return, even if the technology of the time could not. Five months after the launch, Sputnik 2’s orbit decayed. Laika finally came home.

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