November 3: Laika

laikaOn this day in 1957, the USSR launched the Sputnik 2 spacecraft into orbit. carrying with it a dog named Laika (Russian for “barker”), the first living creature to orbit the Earth.

Now, we know that Laika was an unwitting pioneer of space exploration, but what do we know about Laika? Laika was actually a stray dog that was found wandering the streets of Moscow. She and two other stray dogs were actually chosen by Soviet scientists specifically because they believed that these strays had already adapted to extreme cold and hunger. The dogs were trained for the conditions of space by being placed in centrifuges to simulate the acceleration of a rocket launch and kept in small cages to get them used to the compactness of the Russian space crafts. Some of the scientists recognized the harshness of the training conditions, and one, Dr. Vladimir Yazdovsky,  even took Laika home one day to play with his children and to give her some semblance of normalcy; saying  “I wanted to do something nice for her: She had so little time left to live.”

Yes, it’s a sad reality that Laika was never expected to return to Earth. At the time, neither the American nor Soviet space programs had developed a way to bring a satellite back from outer space. The plan was that Laika would spend seven days in space, eating a special gelatine, and on the seventh day her gelatine would contain a humane poison that would euthanize her. Although the official Soviet media reported that this is how Laika’s pioneering mission ended, it was not so.

The Sputnik 2 mission was supposed to happen in 1958, but Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev demanded that a spacecraft launch occur on November 7, 1957 to mark the 40th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. Thus Laika’s journey to the stars was moved up, and the spaceship was not properly insulated or fitted with the right kind of temperature control. As such, Laika tragically died hours into her mission when her spacecraft overheated. Still, Laika managed to complete a few orbits before her death. Five months later, on April 14, 1958, Sputnik 2 and Laika’s remains disintegrated upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

In 2002, Jake Burger of Leeds, England’s Townhouse created a cocktail to celebrate the 45th anniversary of Laika’s brave journey. It’s a delicious drink called Laika that’s based around vodka and the French berry liqueur Creme de Mure. It’s a great way to raise a glass, or paw, to the first creature to see the Earth from space.

Laika

  • 1 1/2 ounces Vodka
  • 3/4 ounce Creme de Mure
  • 1/4 ounce lemon juice
  • 3/4 ounces simple syrup
  • 2 ounces apple juice

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a Collins glass with ice. Garnish with fresh berries.

Tomorrow: Tut’s tomb.

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