Sputnik-2, more news from distant history

Sven Grahn

A space history paper "surfaces" in Houston!

At the World Space Congress in Houston in October 2002 a very interesting paper (1) about Sputnik-2 appeared written by by Dimitri C. Malashenkov from the Institute for Biological problems in Moscow. The following details were given about the design  of the spacecraft:

There had been work done to adapt a group of dogs to conditions in the tight cabin. This had led to keeping dogs in gradually smaller cages  for periods up to 15-20 days. In general, it seems that long confinement led untrained dogs to neither urinate nor release solid wastes, which made the dogs restless and caused their general condition to decay. Laxatives did not help, only long training did. All these preparations must have been far in advance of the decree of 12 October 1957 to carry out the flight of the dog. (See article entitled: Sputnik 2 - was it really built in less than a month?) Pre-flight experiments with launch phase stress like vibrations caused the pulse to double and the blood pressure to increase by 30-65 mm Hg.

There were three dogs selected for the Sputnik-2 flight: Albina, Laika and Mushka. Albina had flown twice on a high altitude rocket, so it was the "stand-in" for Laika, while Mushka was a "technological dog" used to test instrumentation and life support. (According to (2) the first being to travel to outer space was a female part-Samoyed terrier originally named Kudryavka [Little Curly] but later renamed Laika [Barker]).

Pre-launch physiological parameters of Laika were normal, but pulse rate went up by a factor three at launch and at peak acceleration the respiration rate had increased 3-4 times above pre-launch values. At the start of weightlessness the pulse rate decreased to values near the pre-launch rate. However, it took three times longer than after a centrifuge ride on the ground to return to pre-launch values. Electrocardiogram traces also approached normal as the flight continued.

However, telemetry showed that temperature and humidity in the dog cabin increased gradually. After 5-7 hours into the flight no physiological parameters were transmitted and on the fourth orbit it was impossible to obtain any data on the condition of the dog.

Post-flight simulations showed that Laika probably overheated an died on the third or fourth orbit. As the author writes: "It was practically impossible to create a reliable system of a temperature control in such small [sic] term". There is no mention of any problem with the nose shroud that could have helped make the temperature control problem worse.

Previously, it has been thought that Laika survived four days in space and perhaps for a week when the transmitters (on shortwaves) of Sputnik-2 went silent. Actually, it seems that she survived for only 5-7 hours! But that was enough to prove that a living organsism could tolerate a long time in weightlessness.

Other notes about Sputnik-2

References and footnotes

  1. Malashenkov, Dimitri C, "Some Unknown Pages of the Living Organism's First Orbital Flight", Paper IAC-02-IAA.2.2.05, 53rd International Astronautical Concress, 10-19 October 2002, Houston, Texas.
  2. National Space Science Data Center (article on Sputnik-2)
  3. LePage, Andrew J., Sputnik 2: The First Animal in Orbit. Spaceviews Nov 1997 articles.
  4. E-mail from Richard S Flagg dated 27 October 2002.
  5. A QSL-card is a station verification report. QSL is a radio amateur "Q signal" and means "I am acknowledging receipt"
  6. Siddiqi, Asif, "Challenge to Apollo", NASA  SP-2000-4408, pp.172

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