Exactly 55 years after the first dog was sent to space on a death mission, animal activists say never again. The date was November 3, 1957. At the time, the impact of spaceflight on living creatures was unknown. A Soviet spacecraft – Sputnik 2 - had been readied for its first canine on board. Her name was Laika.
A three-year-old stray mongrel found wandering the streets of Moscow, Russian scientists had assumed that she had already learnt to endure conditions of extreme cold and hunger. In addition, she was soft natured or as a Russian magazine at the time referred to her, ‘phlegmatic.’ So, it wasn’t too difficult for her trainers to grow attached to her, lending her the nicknames such as Kudryavka (Russian for Little Curly) and Limonchik (Little Lemon). Sadly, the satellite was never meant to be retrievable and according to reports, six days later, Laika died in space due to overheating.
Several champions of animal rights in Chennai have heard the touching the story. And the reactions are unanimous: ‘We won’t let it happen again.’ Says Shiranee Pereira, co-founder of People for Animals. “Whatever the experiment, you can never equate animal exposure with enough evidence for human parameters.” She adds blatantly, “The argument may be for science and progress, but at the end of the day, scientists placed a voiceless dog in the prison of a spacecraft in order to get some information.”
Weighing the loss of a life over the purpose of the satellite - to cumulate data on how living organisms react to spaceflight environments – the activist makes a strong objection. “The data they were looking for wasn’t indispenable.” She elaborates, “It wasn’t used to save a life or cure cancer. Was it worth it?”
One may also object on grounds of training conditions prior to take off. To adapt the dogs to the confines of the tiny cabin of Sputnik 2, they were kept in progressively smaller cages for periods up to 20 days.
The extensive close confinement caused them to stop urinating or defecating, making them restless, and caused their general condition to deteriorate.
It is reported that space dogs at the time were placed in centrifuges that simulated the acceleration of a rocket launch and were placed in machines that simulated the sounds of the spacecraft.
This caused their pulses to double and their blood pressure to increase by 30–65 torr. The dogs were trained to eat a special high-nutrition gel that would be their food in space.
However, as any pet owner would probably imagine, Laika’s biggest discomfort was a harness was designed to restrict her movements. There was to be standing, sitting or lying down. There was no room to turn around in the cabin, period.
In an era of limited technology, a dog perhaps seemed the only option on such a fatal expedition. However, animal lover Anuradha Chawla rebutts on firm moral ground.
“It is no one’s right to play god with a life,” she states. “It really doesn’t matter what the cause is.”
Should the time for a space dog with no return ever come again, it is certain that the strength of the Indian nation of animal defenders will not allow it.
PETA volunteer Niranjan Amarnath sums it up best when he poses the question: “Are we ready to explore outer space when we can’t appreciate the lives on Earth?”