The Russian mutt known as Laika was the first animal to orbit the Earth, doing so aboard Sputnik 2 in 1957. More than 50 years after this feat, a monument to the brave dog was finally installed near a Moscow military facility in 2008.
Laika lived a rags-to-riches story. She began life as a homeless mongrel wandering the streets of Moscow before she was selected by the Russian space program to become the first animal to orbit the planet. Laika was chosen less for her intelligence than for her literal puppy dog eyes that the rocket scientists in Russia knew people the world over could identify with. They were not wrong, and Laika quickly gained international attention. Unfortunately this meteoric rise (pun intended) was headed only toward tragedy.
The adorable little dog was trained and fitted with a space suit before being launched into space on Nov. 3, 1957. The craft carrying Laika, Sputnik 2, made over 2,000 revolutions of the Earth before disintegrating on re-entry. According to the Russian government, Laika had perished in space either due to oxygen deprivation or a planned euthanization. It was not until 2002 that they revealed Laika had in actuality died within hours of launch from overheating. Nonetheless, in death she had become a hero.
Strangely, the famous mongrel did not receive her own monument in the Russian capital until 2008. The (surprisingly small) monument that now stands near a military research station is shaped like an abstract rocket that morphs into a hand, cradling Laika toward the stars. If only her actual fate had been so peaceful.
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