Thursday, 3 March 2011

Celebrity Dogs (3)

Hello everyone.

This is the third posting in an occasional series of famous (celebrity) dogs of the past and present.
In Greek mythology, Canis Major (Great Dog) and Canis Minor (Little Dog) are Orion's, two hunting dogs. Canis Major is one of the most striking constellations in the heavens. Look for Sirius, "The Dog Star", the brightest star in the heavens. Legend has it that Canis Major is said to be crouching, ready to pounce on Lepus, The Rabbit. Things have moved on today and now man is set upon a constant quest of the exploration of space. Everyone has at some time looked up at the stars and allowed our minds to wonder.

More recently we have embarked upon a journey to the stars. With probes to our near neighbour planets like the moon and mars. Through our land based telescope we look at planets that are millions of miles away. We can also look with the Hubble space telescope at Galaxies that are millions of light years away. All of this started in 1957 with the launch of the Russian Sputnik one.

There is one very famous dog pioneer in the race for space. Today, we celebrate the memory of a very brave little dog with several names including Laika, Little Curly, Little Bug or Limonchik. Laika as she became known to the World was a very special Russian space dog and the first animal to orbit the Earth. At the same time Laika was to become the first casualty and the first orbital death in the World wide space program.

The technology to return a space craft from Earth orbit had not yet been developed. So our canine hero had no expectation for survival. Little was known about the impact of spaceflight on living things at the time Laika's mission was launched. Some scientists believed humans would be unable to survive the launch or the conditions of outer space, so engineers viewed flights by non-human animals as a necessary precursor to human missions.

Laika, a three year old stray underwent training with two other dogs. Laika, was eventually chosen as the cosmonaut of the Soviet spacecraft Sputnik 2 that was launched into outer space on November 3, 1957.  Soviet scientists chose to use Moscow strays since they assumed that such animals had already learned to endure conditions of extreme cold and hunger. At the end of the space flight, it was widely reported that Laika was euthanised prior to oxygen depletion. Nonetheless, the experiment proved that a living passenger could survive being launched into orbit and endure weightlessness, paving the way for human spaceflight and providing scientists with some of the first data on how living organisms react to spaceflight environments.

On April 11, 2008, Russian officials unveiled a monument to Laika. The monument in her honor was built near the military research facility in Moscow which prepared Laika's flight to space. It features a dog standing on top of a rocket.

Before the launch, one of the scientists took Laika home to play with his children. In a book chronicling the story of Soviet space medicine, Dr. Vladimir Yazdovsky wrote, "I wanted to do something nice for her. She had so little time left to live."

After some 2,570 orbits, Sputnik 2 burnt up on re-entry along with Laika's remains. Our brave little cosmonaut remains were scattered to the four corners of the Earth. It was not until 1998, after the collapse of the Soviet regime, that Oleg Gazenko, one of the scientists responsible for sending Laika into space, expressed regret for allowing her to die:
Work with animals is a source of suffering to all of us. We treat them like babies who cannot speak. 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.

Russia launched thirteen other dogs into space to further their knowledge. These dogs should not be forgotten and deserve a mention here as brave little souls like Laika. Bars (Panther or Lynx). Belka (Squirrel). Chernushka (Blackie). Damka (Little Lady). Krasavka (Beauty). Lisichka (Little Fox). Mushka (Little Fly). Pchelka (Little Bee). Strelka (Little Arrow). Ugolyok (Little Piece of Coal). Verterok (Little Wind). Zvezdochka (Little Star)

So today we salute the memory of space dog Laika and the memory of her canine cosmonaut friends.

Yip Yap.

XX Poppy

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