July 29, 2008, is the 50th annniversary of the National Aeronautics and Space Act (NASA).
I wasn't born when U.S. President Eisenhower commissioned Dr. T. Keith Glennan as the first administrator for NASA in 1958.
Fifty-one years ago, in 1957 — when the space race first began — a Russian part-Samoyed terrier dog named Laika became the first dog to go into outer space . . . and to die in outer space.
Laika died from stress and overheating, it is said, almost certainly the same day after being launched into space in Sputnik 2. There'd been never any intention by the Soviet space agency to bring back Laika or the space capsule.
A compelling retelling of "the story of Laika" is found at MoscowAnimals.org, an animal welfare site run by Mayhew Animal Home to benefit homeless Moscow animals. In the footer of Laika's page are these words:
"Laika represented for some the pioneering spirit which took us 'where no man had gone before.' For others, she symbolised the ruthless exploitation of innocent creatures for dubious benefits.Interesting reading about Laika: Ted Strong's Laika page and Laika on Wikipedia
Perhaps this is best summed up in the words of Oleg Gazenko, a leading member of the Soviet Space Programme's scientific team. Speaking at a Moscow news conference in 1998, he said: 'The more time passes, the more I'm sorry about it...We did not learn enough from this mission to justify the death of the dog.'"