Like most dogs, Laika never knew her mother. She had no memory of being born in a backalley in Moscow in 1954. All Laika knew was that this was the life she was given, and the only one she would ever have; the life of a stray dog.
The winters were cold in Russia, and Laika sometimes had a hard time keeping up. She wandered the city at night skulking for scraps, and generally staying out of sight. It never occured to Laika to look up at the stars. In fact, her constant sniffing for food kept her looking down, and Laika had little reason to be familiar with whatever might be above.
One day, Laika was captured. A few men put her in a truck and drove her somewhere. Then, they put her in a cage with a few other dogs, and gave her food. The next evening, a few more men came, put her into a different truck, drove her somewhere else, and put her into yet another cage. It was all very confusing, and difficult to keep track of.
In the days, weeks and months that followed, Laika’s cage kept getting smaller and smaller. The men kept moving her from one cage to the next, and each time they did, her cage had a little bit less space. Her food was different too. Instead of scraps of discarded food, Laika’s diet now consisted of some kind of jelly.
Then, one day (November 3rd, 1957), Laika was put into a different cage. In this one, she couldn’t move at all. She was strapped down and connected to a bunch of wires and tubes. She wasn’t very comfortable, and she was confused as to why this cage was different from the last few cages.
Suddenly, there was a very loud noise. It was so loud, in fact, that Laika could not hear anything except for a ringing in her own sensitive ears. She suddenly felt very heavy, as if her whole body was being pushed down really hard. And it didn’t stop. It kept pushing harder and harder.
After a few minutes, she felt an even stranger sensation; she was floating. She couldn’t even tell what way she was facing. It felt like she was upside down, but she didn’t feel like she was falling. It was very hot, and she found it very difficult to breathe.
For several hours, Laika looked out the window of her cage. She could see an enormous blue object that was unlike anything she had ever seen before. It was as if she was looking at a blue sky, except this time she was looking from the other side of the clouds.
In the moments before her death, Laika reflected on her life. She had no reason to think that she was different than any other dog. As far as she could tell, this was just the way that life went. You live to the best of your ability, even if it’s tough, and you never really know what’s going on. Then, right before you die, you get shot up into the sky – even beyond the sky – and you get to look down on the world for yourself. All she could do was accept her fate, inconsequential and pointless though it may have seemed.
Laika never knew that she, and she alone, had the incredible honour of being the first living creature to leave planet Earth. Laika could never understand the implications of her life, and the incredible unlikelihood of her experience. According to Laika, she lived an ordinary, unimportant life. And that is the most incredible part of all.
1954 – 1957