Friday, December 14, 2007

Laika

I have never had a problem with the Russians. OK, so Vladimir Putin reminds me of an archetypal Bond villain but as a 1980s teenager, I found Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher a more frightening prospect than the USSR. I even wore a hammer and sickle badge on occasion.

But I’ve recently discovered something that has made me rather cross with Russia. It has nothing to do with poisoned spies, but rather a poor little dog that died 50 years ago. I was vaguely aware that the first living creature sent into Space from Earth was a Russian dog, and that the dog died. But I didn’t realise the dog was deliberately sent to her death with no intention of bringing her back.

I’ve missed the 50th anniversary of Laika becoming the first animal sent into Space – that happened at the start of November. In 1957, she was blasted off in Sputnik 2, around a month after Sputnik became the first satellite sent into orbit. That first satellite hadn’t even come down before they sent up another one with a living animal on board. And they seem to have done it so quickly to satisfy the vanity of Krushchev, who wanted a grand gesture to mark the 40th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution.

I can’t understand why the people who trained the space dogs – and there were a fair few canine cosmonauts - didn’t stop and think about what they were doing. How can you justify sending an animal to certain death when you have built a relationship with it? And they must have had a relationship with the little dog. Did no one step back and say: “Hang on a minute, this is inhumane?” Did no one say: “Hang on a minute, dogs’ bodies work differently to ours?”

As it was, Laika didn’t live for the four or so days the world was told; malfunctions in the equipment supposed to keep her alive meant the tiny cabin she was strapped into became hotter and hotter and
she died within hours of stress and overheating.

Now, one of the scientists responsible for sending her to her death says: “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.” At least he had a choice; Laika didn't. I hope the guilt never leaves him.

12 comments:

mountainear said...

Just don't get me started on this...I only have to think of the 'brave' animals who 'fought' and died in times of war - and won medals for their 'bravery' to feel the steam coming out of my ears. Grr.

GeraniumCat said...

I remember reading this story and getting similarly steamed up. And it wasn't just Laika, there were so many dogs in the space programme and if they didn't die by accident they died afterwards for "research" purposes. No was has ever given me a satisfactory reason why, if humans wanted to go into space, a lot of animals had to do it first. Hubris...grrr.

Yorkshire Pudding said...

Well I don't want to upset you but on our street there are one or two dogs which are always crapping on the pavement or grass verges. I would happily blast them into outer space along with their stupid owners! Perhaps Laika had been fouling the streets of Moscow...

Gill said...

Nice to see you back eminem! Sadly certain scientists think nothing of suffering caused to animals OR people if it furthers their research. Numerous soldiers and prisoners have had drugs and radioactive substances tested on them.

mutterings and meanderings said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one bothered by this - YP, perhaps it should be the owners rather than the dogs that you blast away? After all, dogs do what dogs do ...

What bothers me the most is that they didn't even try to get her down - it was that they thought it was OK to leave her to die, as long as they could say to the US: "Oh, look, we're so much cleverer than you." I don't think leave a dog to die is particularly big or clever.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm.. But to make an omelette you have to break some eggs.

If the rocket on the moon lander had failed, there would have been no way of bringing the humans who had just walked on the moon back to earth.

They even had a speech written so that Nixon could have broken this to the American people. I forget the words, but it is in the recent film 'In the shadow of the moon'.

Laika was unfortunate - but in the grand scheme of things, the numbers of 'smoking beagles', and dogs used for food in China is probably much greater from a numerical point of view. And science has advanced a lot as a result of space exploration - to the point where they are looking at advantages of making drugs in micro-gravity.

I guess you can always find reasons not to push boundaries, as with the space programme. Many of the people involved in building the rockets were ex-Nazis, and a strict ethical interpretation would have meant not using their knowledge either, and I don't have a strong defence for it.

It wasn't without human cost - the three astronauts of the Apollo 1 mission were incinerated on the launch pad because they were breathing pure oxygen which was set alight by a spark from the electric cables.

And going to the moon was a purely political objective from the point of view of justifying the funding for it.

But it was the crowning achievement of the 20th Century, and I am still bloody cross that my parents did not wake my almost-three-year old self up to see the TV and look at the screen at the point at which man first walked on the moon.

dulwichmum said...

Thank God you are back! How is your noble beast? I feel quite upset for the dog, but how is the grey mare?

mountainear said...

Hmmm, maybe we should get stuff right on this planet first?

mutterings and meanderings said...

The humans who have gone into space had a choice. They knew what they were getting into - and could've said no.

The loss of Laika and men on the Moon have done absolutely nothing to make my life any better than it would've been had this not happened. I actually read Nixon's speech the other day. The fact the US's achievement was based on the science of a merciless Nazi who experimented on people in camps during WW2 also sticks in my craw.

DM, my darling, I rode the Grey Mare for the first time in three months at the weekend. I will blog about it this week....

Mountainear, I totally agree with you ... I am not a Luddite, I just do not support needless sacrifice for grandstanding motives..

Pig in the Kitchen said...

I'm not going to comment on the dog, because you are rather scary when you're being feisty dear M&M. But i'm very glad that you are back!
Pigx

Nunhead Mum of One said...

I'm glad you're back and even gladder (I know that's not a word!) that GM is being ridden.

bless you both x

@themill said...

Back in inimitable style M&M!