On this day: Sputnik II and Laika, the first dog in space, re-enters Earth's atmosphere

Rebecca Lewis
Yahoo News.
On this day: Sputnik II and Laika, the first dog in space, re-enters Earth's atmosphere

14 April 1958: The spacecraft Sputnik II re-entered the Earth's atmosphere after 162 days in space bearing a special passenger - Laika, a female part-Samoyed terrier.

The 4-metre cone-shaped satellite was the second to enter Earth's orbit on 3 November 1957. It also had the distinction of carrying the first living animal into space.

Laika was a stray and had been hand-picked for the mission, which aimed to discover what would happen to a living creature in space. Soviet officials only revealed shortly after blast-off the canine was doomed to die in space.

Accommodation for the one-way trip provided food and water, a waste bag and room to lie down or stand. Laika was also fitted with a harness and electrodes to monitor her vital signs.

Laika's heartbeat was closely monitored after the launch and data showed the dog had suffered from stress in the early hours of the mission.

For years it was believed the dog had died painlessly a week after blast off but in 2002 it was revealed the poor animal had perished just a few hours after launch from overheating and stress. The space craft was incinerated on re-entry into the Earth's upper atmosphere.

This ominous Pathé news report of Sputnik II shows the historical launch and its unusual passenger.

Footage shows both Russian and American stations monitoring the orbiting vessel.

The Western narrator observes this mission "means Russia probably has an operational intercontinental ballistic missile" - a prospect that would have angered and worried USSR's enemies the United States and the United Kingdom.

Sputnik II came at the beginning of the Space Race - a competition between the USSR and the United States for supremacy in space exploration - but the Soviet Union won early ground with its small spacecraft and living passenger.