In 1957, the first dog to go into space and orbit the Earth was this 2-year-old stray, Laika.
Laika was part of the Soviet Union's space program, which used dogs during the 1950s and 1960s to help determine whether human spaceflight was possible.
A little context: only small stray mutts like Laika were trained for space, since they were believed to be more adaptable to harsh conditions, and they took up less space.
And all of the dogs used for the space program were female — for the simple reason that they did not have to lift their legs to pee (which would have been very hard to do in a cramped space capsule).
Before sending Laika into space, the Soviet Union had already sent a few dogs to extremely high altitudes. In 1951, two dogs named Dezik and Tsygan were sent up to a suborbital altitude of 110 km. The dogs survived this flight.
One of those dogs, Dezik, was also later flown in a rocket on July 22 of that year. However, Dezik and her companion, Lisa, both died when the capsule's parachute failed.
Anyway, back to Laika. So Laika was supposed to go into space — and there was no way to design a re-entry vehicle in time for her launch, which meant that she would never return home.
Over the course of the space program, scientists frequently developed close bonds with the animals.
The last words that Laika heard before going up into space? "Please forgive us," whispered to her by the Russian biologist Adilya Kotovskaya.
When Laika reached orbit, doctors were able to measure her heartbeat, which had risen on launch, and her blood pressure; both were normal. She also got to eat some special food from a container inside the capsule.
Laika was supposed to be euthanized with a programmed injection, but after a few hours in orbit, she died — apparently of overheating and stress.
Laika's "coffin," the satellite Sputnik II, stayed in space for half a year and orbited earth another 2,570 times, before it finally burned up in the earth's atmosphere.
Later in the summer of 1960, two dogs named Bars and Lisichka died when their rocket booster exploded during launch.
The next dogs were luckier: Belka and Strelka became the first dogs to orbit earth and survive. They were launched into space on August 19, 1960, and orbited Earth more than a dozen times before landing the next day.
And later, other dog cosmonauts in 1960 weren't as lucky. Pchelka and Mushka were carried on the Sputnik 6 launch on December 1, and after orbiting the earth for a day, they died due to a reentry error.
So, to recap: the next time you get excited about the latest Space X / NASA / Blue Origin launch, pour one out for all of the brave space pups who came before us and made it all possible.
This post was translated from German.