Laika the Space Dog

The date was November 3rd, 1957 and the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union was heating up. In October of 1957, the Soviet Union had launched Sputnik One, the first artificial Earth satellite, into orbit. Although U.S. President John F. Kennedy was committed to space exploration, the U.S.S.R. had successfully beat the United States to the punch with Sputnik One. The Soviets triumphed again in November of 1957 with Sputnik Two, and the first launch of a living creature into Earth’s orbit.

Onboard Sputnik Two was a little dog named Laika. She was a female stray, taken from the streets of Moscow, fitted with a space suit and trained for space travel. The goal was to monitor Laika during takeoff and flight to test the effects of G-forces on the body, and to learn about possible complications that might arise in the future when humans would be launched into orbit. There was no plan in place to return Laika to Earth alive. Despite her posthumous hero status in the Soviet Union, her death caused anger and early debate on animal testing and experimentation. The Soviets’ sacrificing Laika in order to “be first” was also a sad example of the consequences of extreme competition between the nations of the world.

Thank you for being a part of the Professional Educators Network. We hope you enjoy this new installment of History’s ARTifacts. Please watch the educational video with your students, download the poster by this month’s artist, Thad Stalmack II, and watch Thad’s Meet the Artist video.

Meet the Artist: Thad Stalmack II

Activities for Laika the Space Dog

Sputnik II was launched on November 3rd, 1957. Aboard the rocket was Laika the dog, one of the first living creatures put into orbit. The launch of both Sputnik I and II were catalysts to the Cold War between the USSR and the USA. The ensuing space race lasted for decades and still continues, in some form, to this day. Social Studies students can discuss a number of issues including international politics, technological advancement and animal testing.
In order to put a spacecraft into orbit, it must reach what is known as escape velocity. Escape velocity on earth is 11.186 kilometers per second. Have your students convert this velocity to miles per second. For an approximate result, divide the length value (kilometers) by 1.609. So, 11.186 divided by 1.609 gives a result of 6.952 miles per second to reach escape velocity. The escape velocity to launch from the moon is 2.38 kilometers per second. Have your students convert this into miles per second as well.
The early space race brought scientific advances throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s. The fields of engineering, physics, chemistry, biology and others all saw breakthroughs as scientists worked through the mechanics of spaceflight to the actual launching of missions. Laika was monitored throughout her flight to see if living creatures could survive the launch and orbit. They also monitored the effects of G-forces on heart rate, breathing and other biological functions. The ethics of doing scientific tests like these on animals can be debated in class. The advancements brought about from spaceflight can also be discussed.
Laika is a graphic novel that tells the tale of the first living creature launched into space. The graphic novel reflects the points of view of different scientists, rocket engineers and Laika herself. Laika lived as a stray on the streets of Moscow prior to her launch. She died during the flight and is seen as a national hero in what we know as Russia today. She appears on the Monument to the Conquerors of Space in Moscow. The novel gives readers a variety of learning modes to learn about Laika. Graphic novels can be a great way to introduce reluctant readers to subjects that interest them.