Laika, little astronaut.

The other day when I was blabbering about pod casts, I promised to share some good reads with you. I had a few recent loves in mind, but one book was especially haunting. It's about a dead dog. Those have always had a special way of destroying me. This one is particularly throw-the-book-at-the-wall-sad (she looks like Harold!), but after after lots of sobbing and hugging of live dogs, I realized that I LOVED the book. A sad love, though.

Laika, by Nick Abadzis, is a graphic novel chronicling the true story of Laika, the first creature launched into outer space.

In 1957, the Soviet Union impressed the world with their launch of Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite launched into earth's orbit. Determined to flex their skills, they devised another plan to send a second satellite, only this time, it would carry the first living being into orbit - a stray dog they called Laika ("barker"). The launch would make for a grand spectacle, to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. Unfortunately, the breakneck speed of the Sputnik program did not allow for configuration of a return flight for the little astronaut. It was premeditated that Laika would meet her fate in outer space.

Sputnik 2 paved the way for human space flight, although it's been argued that the sacrifice of the dog's life resulted in little scientific data - more than anything, it seemed to be a political pissing contest, a propaganda stunt aimed at America. Notoriously, Russia told the world that Laika had been humanely "put to sleep" after a taking a few spins around Earth. In truth, the heat and stress killed her after only 5 hours inside the space craft.

In the book, Laika melts the hearts of all the characters, even some of the hardened politicians. This sentiment was certainly felt in real life, since after the story of her death hit the papers, there was a large outcry against animal testing all over the world. After the fall of communism, Oleg Gazenko, one of the lead scientists behind the space mission, deeply regretted sending Laika to her death:
"Work with animals is a source of suffering to all of us. We treat them like babies who cannot speak. The more time passes, the more I'm sorry about it. We shouldn't have done it... We did not learn enough from this mission to justify the death of the dog."

Laika reflects the complex relationships forged between humans and canines, woven between themes of duty, freedom, sacrifice and destiny. Set against the tumultuous cultural and political climate of the Cold War, Abadzis illustrates how adoration and innocence can be trumped by greed and ambition. It broke my heart knowing that while Laika was being a "good dog," eager to please and be loved, she was inevitably sealing her fate.

I thought the artwork was very charming. Here's my favorite scene from the book:

If you are interested (and prepared to sob hysterically over a dog that's been dead for over 60 years), you can read an excerpt here. You can read more about the real Laika, here. And I found this wonderful poem about her, here.

Laika's journey into outer space made her one of the most famous dogs in history, and in Russia, she is heralded as a pioneer and hero. In 1997, a plaque commemorating fallen cosmonauts was unveiled in Star City, Russia, including an image of the little dog, standing alert with ears pricked. In 2008, she received her own memorial outside Moscow's Military Medicine Institute.

Last March, Kurt and I were in Russia visiting a friend. Laika's memorial was on our list of sights to see, and after a wild goose chase around one snowy Moscow neighborhood, we eventually found her:

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Kurt and I at Laika's memorial in Moscow.


  1. oh my goodness this sounds like an amazing grapic novel to read. and i LOVE that you went to go find her memorial in moscow!

    ps- i really really loved roman holiday and recommend it if you like old movies. i think the story is just so swet :)

  2. wow what an amazing story! i will definitely have to check out the book!

  3. Hi Johanna.

    Would you mind sharing where the Laika monument is located? I'd love to see it on an upcoming trip to Moscow. In my past trips there I haven't thought to look for anything related to Laika but my son is crazy about the first dog in space and a he'd love for me to photograph it for him.

    Thank you!

    1. Hello,
      It is unbelievable, but after about 6 hours of searching through the net I found the location of that monument. If anybody told me that he'd been searching for so long on the net for such a trivial information of a world famous importance I would thing he would be pulling my leg. I must share this with you, hopefully your trip is not over yet and you'll be able to see Laika, the Dog.
      55° 47' 40.57" N 37° 33' 33.96" E
      The adress is 12a, Petrovsko-Razumovskaya Alley, Moscow.

      Daniel Lukac.

  4. http://wilwagner.bandcamp.com/track/laika


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