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Soviet account of space dog disputed

Canine died within hours of 1957 launch, Russian scientist says

By Richard Stenger

Laika before launch in Sputnik 2
Laika before launch in Sputnik 2

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(CNN) -- The first living animal to orbit Earth did not survive nearly as long as thought after she blasted off into space 45 years ago, according to a Russian scientist.

Laika overheated, panicked and died within hours of launch in the second spacecraft to circle the planet, contrary to Soviet reports that the dog had lived for up to a week, said Dimitri Malashenkov of the Institute for Biomedical Problems in Moscow.

The Soviets dispatched the canine in Sputnik 2 in November 1957, one month after performing another technological feat that stunned the world, launching the first artificial satellite into orbit, Sputnik.

"The overheating story has been around. It was even hinted at by Soviet media at the time. But this, dead after five to seven hours, that was a shock to me," said Sven Grahn, a Swedish space historian.

Malashenkov, who presented his revelation last week in a paper at the World Space Congress in Houston, Texas, is a researcher at the Institute for Biomedical Problems.

Since its founding in 1963 at the behest of the Soviet space program, the institute has conducted biological, medical and physiological research to support cosmonaut missions.

Laika, a mixed-breed pooch whose name means Barker, rode in a cramped, padded pressurized compartment, with enough room to stand or lie down and with water and food dispensed in a gel form.

Nicknamed "Muttnick" in the United States, she was outfitted with a harness, a waste collection bag and electrode sensors to record her vital signs, which were beamed down to mission scientists.

After the launch, Soviet space officials said that the spacecraft would not return and that the dog had enough food and oxygen to live for up to 10 days.

Some scientists speculated that Laika had died earlier than that due to thermal insulation problems overheating the cabin interior.

The 1,120-pound (508-kilogram) space crypt remained in orbit a total of 162 days, then burned up in the atmosphere on April 14, 1958.

Sputnik 2, which was launched near the beginning of the decades-long space race between the Soviet Union and United States, inspired many budding space enthusiasts.

"You know, the flight of Laika was the event that made me catch 'the space bug,' " Grahn said.

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