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Laika – The Space Hero

This was the night of 3rd November 1957. The world was at its heels, the faces of people plastered against their screens. The old boxy television and radio sets were all tuned in and blaring as the people sat huddled together inside the stuffy clubs that night in Moscow and beyond. Then, they all heard it. The rocket Sputnik 2 was launching off into space, with the beloved warrior Laika inside it, embarking on a voyage to redefine humanity’s reach amongst the starry skies. As the rocket gushed and thrusted itself into a launch, the world sat waiting to witness what would be the next thing to unfold. The first possible outcome was, that the Sputnik 2 would disembark, disintegrate and collapse into nothingness if it exploded before reaching planet Earth’s Orbit. The other possibility, which once seemed like a rational hope, now was rapidly fading into ludicrousness, as the stakes were stacking with every mile the rocket was ascending. If it were to remain intact, and if little Laika were to remain alive inside it, then the humans would just have sent out successfully, into the orbit, a living, breathing being. It would forever change how we would look at our skies, and our stars, as suddenly they would seem within the human grasp.

So, it happened. After a seemingly endless period of wait, it was announced from Baikonur Spaceport, Kazakhstan, that the rocket had successfully reached itself into Earth’s Orbit with Laika still alive inside it, and the world lifted itself into an uproar. Everything was tossed into an array of flurry, U.S.S.R beaming with pride over the record that they had just achieved while their enemies of the cold war sat hushed in the opposite corners to the West, scheming for their defensive move. Everyone chatted everywhere, from the groups of people hunched over the scarcely available newspapers of the next day, to the masses of people gathered in assemblies and conferences everywhere. Yet, someone was forgotten that day. Someone who died that night. Someone who had just given up her life for humanity while the humanity quickly forgot. Meet Laika.

Laika was a little puppy who opened her eyes in the blithering cold streets of Moscow. She was born a stray and so was a victim of the harshness that the streets brought on from her earliest moments. She, like the many others like her, spent her days searching for tedious scraps of food in the shivering cold snowy landscapes of the city. People paid no attention to her, for she was just another stray dog meant only for nuisance. Then one day, she saw some people get out of the shiny black moving boxes humans would often disappear into and come directly towards her. Before she could react, she was lifted off and taken away from the only place she had ever known.

Over the next phase in her life, she was molded into a model of what the scientists wanted her to be. She got herself accustomed to tiny living spaces as she would be confined into smaller and smaller boxes, to train her for her journey ahead. She forgot how to chew, and began to only swallow down a jelly concoction, as it was the only thing ever offered to her anymore. She would be left in a metal box that would spin around endlessly as they tested gravitational forces on her. In spite of all, she grew to love the people who took her in. She was always described as gentle and tender, and never did she let the common people of her suffering. Once all the scientists were convinced that she was ready to leave, the date of Sputnik 2’s launch was set and one of the trainers took her away for just one night to his home, where she had a good meal and her last strokes of affection from the scientists’ children. Those who locked her up knew that she’ll never live to make the journey back. That she will die alone, trapped in the barren, lifeless metal box, and there will be no one to let her out. On that fateful night of 3 November, the mighty U.S.S.R did not have enough courage or the heart to announce how Laika really died. They said that the dog was peacefully put to rest by poisoning her chamber but it was a blatant lie. We today know, that Laika died by being burnt alive as the metal walls of her tiny box heated up as it lit up into flames. She fought for her life for a good couple of hours before succumbing to her fateful end. No one heard her pleas for life day, and she floated away to her every end.

The foundations of our modern sciences are often at the cost of the lives of lab animals. Let us always speak up for them, and advocate for their living rights.

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About The Author

Adeena Tahir

I'm Adeena Tahir, sophomore at IESE NUST. I’m an observant caffeinated ambivert, who tries her best to put into words all those moments, where suddenly everything that once seemed mundane turns poetic and to cause an exchange of perceptions through empathetic writing!