Laika, the first in space
Russians made no provisions were made for her safe return. She died in orbit.
Nov. 3, 1957: The Soviet Union sends the first living creature into orbit
News media alternated between mockery and pity for the dog sent into space. According to a 1957 TIME report on how the press was covering the event, “headlines yelped such barbaric new words as pupnik and pooch-nik, sputpup and woofnik,” before ultimately settling on “Muttnik.”
Sputnik 2 was not designed to be retrievable, and Laika had always been intended to die. The mission sparked a debate across the globe on the mistreatment of animals and animal testing in general to advance science. In the United Kingdom, the National Canine Defence League called on all dog owners to observe a minute’s silence, while the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) received protests even before Radio Moscow had finished announcing the launch. Animal rights groups at the time called on members of the public to protest at Soviet embassies. Others demonstrated outside the United Nations in New York; nevertheless, laboratory researchers in the U.S. offered some support for the Soviets, at least before the news of Laika’s death.
In the Soviet Union, there was less controversy. Neither the media, books in the following years, nor the public openly questioned the decision to send a dog into space. 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: