The Legend of Laika

From its birth, the Soviet Union valued technological progress and advancement. This tradition of advancing technology and information continued until the fall of the Soviet Union. One of the most valued ways of expanding technical knowledge was the Space Race. The Space Race spurred a fascination in the beyond and was the inspiration for much of the popular culture of the time.

With the launching of Sputnik in 1954, the Soviet Union gained respect and admiration from the international scientific community. The launching of Sputnik was a landmark achievement in moving towards man’s ability to travel space, but at this time the Soviet Union preferred the use of space dogs to operate their ships(Source). Sputnik II launched with Laika, a street dog from Moscow, in tow up 2,000 feet from the streets she came from. Unfortunately, Laika did not make it home, but her legend and star power lived on through popular culture(Source).

4967208430_f5f05e968e_o(Soviet postcard depicting Laika)(Source)

Even though Laika did not make it home, her memory was preserved through postcards, children’s books, and other avenues of popular culture. However, in these renderings of the story of Laika, people often gave her a happier ending where she did not suffer from oxygen deprivation because most of this content was intended for children to enjoy. Beyond the Soviet Union, even people in America were fascinated by Laika. However, there was also a large amount of pushback against using dogs in a suicide mission in the States because of their inability to consent to such experiments. The Time’s editorial board called this practice “morally, spiritually, and ethically wrong.”(Source).  However, most people were fascinated by the idea of space travel, and Laika served as a glimmer of hope for the possibility of Soviet space travel.

While Laika would not be the last dog to adventure into space, she will forever be a national icon embodying the effort and will of the Soviet people to reach Space. While the debate on the ethics of using animals for experimentation lives on, the legend and sacrifice of Laika the Space Dog will be remembered forever.

Wellerstein-Laika(Laika in a training capsule before the launch of Sputnik II) (Source)

3 thoughts on “The Legend of Laika

  1. Great post, this is such an interesting topic! I first heard about Laika from an Arcade Fire song, and I remember thinking it was so cool that a dog went to space (but extremely sad that they didn’t intend for her to return). It does seem a little hypocritical that the West criticized the Soviets for using dogs while we used monkeys and other animals for similar purposes. I guess most people are less attached to monkeys than they are to dogs, but it seems like both can feel pain and emotion at the same levels, so the use of either seems equally tragic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Three cheers for Neighborhood #2! That song fascinates me for the way it turns the resonance of Laika on its head – using her name (“Our mother should’a just named you Laika”) as a marker of Alexander’s betrayal. In the song, Alexander abandons his family, but IRL Laika was betrayed by hers.


  2. I agree with Emma — what a heartfelt post about an incredibly important historical figure from the space race! It’s so good to see Laika get the attention she deserves, and you did a great job of finding good sources for this post, which does highlight the hypocrisy of the West’s objections to the Soviet space dog program. You might be interested in some of the MANY cultural artifacts — mainly songs — created in homage to Laika — most of them well after the fact. I wrote about them here:


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