"Now I’m floating free
And the moon’s with me
And it’s bright enough
To light the dark
And it’s so high up here
And the stars so clear
Are they close enough?
Will they hear me bark from here?"Space Doggity (2008) by Jonathan Coulton
I cried today, after listening to a song Jonathan Coulton wrote in Laika's honour on YouTube. I was perfectly fine the minute before, I swear, and before I knew it, I had my face in my hands on my tabletop, sobbing my eyes out. I read all about Laika before this, of course, but it didn't quite hit home till now.
Laika was not the first animal we've killed in the name of science and progress, and in service to the good of humanity, and she was most definitely not the last. Somehow, I've always managed to live my life ignoring the background slaughter our civilisation is built upon, murders which sit on my dinner plate every night and the callous dismissal we treat these things. I suppose that's the only way I can deal with it without being driven completely nuts by the senselessness of it all. I know they aren't senseless, the killings. They just feel that way.
If you have cancer, you're going to take the treatment they offer you even if you know it was discovered through animal testing. I'm willing to bet that you're going to take it even after you found out that it was discovered through testing on thousands of innocent children in the concentration camps during the Holocaust. I don't know what I'm trying to say with this, really, but make of it whichever way you will.
One YouTuber have this to say after watching the same video and listening to the same song I have,
That's a really hard question, but a fair one. It's a question that needed to be asked. I would like to answer 'No', but that would be my feelings talking. Stupid human feelings.
"Is knowledge worth killing something that can love you greater than the universe is big?"
Laika was a stray wandering on the streets of Moscow when the Soviet scientists brought her in and trained her up along with two other dogs for their little space experiment we all know as Sputnik 2. The aim of it? To see if mammals like us can survive in space - or not.
On November 3, 1957, Laika, chosen from the three, was launched into space in Sputnik 2 with no intention or means of actually bringing her back to earth. That spacecraft they shot her into space in was intended to be Laika's tomb from the very beginning. I applaud the Russian scientists for being able to work on that mission knowing this the entire time because I'm certainly not strong enough to go through with the entire charade. I might do something stupid like springing her loose when no one's looking. And what about Laika's trainers? How do you launch a living thing which looks upon you as her master, loves you enough to let you put her through weeks of gruelling training, into space?
There is a single bright spot in this story, though. 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."
I wondered what was going through Laika's little doggie mind when she finally took off. Unfortunately, that's something we will never know for sure. What we do know was that her heart went up from 103 beats per minute to 240 during the early acceleration of the launch. It must be a horrifying experience, being shot out of the atmosphere. I wonder how much more horrifying it was for a creature which did not understand what it was going through at all. Laika was the first living animal to go into orbit; her sacrifice made all future space exploration endeavors possible. Too bad she didn't know it.
For many years after the day Laika went into space, the Soviet Union have given conflicting statements regarding her fate. She either suffocated in her tiny cabin after the batteries ran out, or she was euthanised with poisoned dog food. Then in 1999, they said she died after her cabin overheated on her 4th day.
It was only in 2002 that the truth finally surfaced,
Laika died five to seven hours after launch from overheating and stress. Due to bad spacecraft design. A spacecraft which they designed and built in only 4 weeks because they needed to meet some deadline. I wonder what Laika thought about in that last few hours she spent cooking slowly at 40°C. For a 3-year-old stray dog living on the streets of Moscow, life must have been pretty harsh, cold and hungry.
Personally, I like to think that she was reminiscing that time Dr. Yazdovsky brought her home to play with his kids. I like to imagine her wagging her tail weakly, thinking about that one day in her very last minutes - just before the heat brought her under.
That must have been the happiest day of her life.
Oleg Gazenko, one of the Russian scientists responsible for Laika's demise, has this to say about the whole sorry debacle,
"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."
Sappy, I know,
k0k s3n w4i