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Remembering Laika
the astronaut dog

On November 3, 1957, Laika, a stray dog from the streets of Moscow, was launched into space in the Sputnik 2 rocket.
It was a defining moment in the history of space exploration: the second time a spacecraft had been launched into Earth’s orbit, and the first time a living animal had been on board.
A few hours later the capsule malfunctioned and Laika was lost, dying from overheating and pain.
This is her story, sweetened with a happy ending where little Laika is rescued and adopted by a family of Martians.
Postage stamp from the Emirate of Ajman

The world of illustration has remembered Laika over the years with several artworks and books. Owen Davey's book is a beautiful introduction to her story for young children (3+) combining a minimal amount of text with powerful full-page illustrations. His signature contemporary style has a stronger vintage feel here, and is expressed at its best.

Although (as you might know at this point) I am all for keeping stories real, I don't mind the happy ending here, it makes an objectively difficult and current topic (that of animal experimentation) easier to digest by very young children.
Yes because putting animals in space is not a lot different to testing cosmetics on them. 
This is one of my 4 year old daughter's favourite books, we've been reading it for over a year now and she has shared it at school, and although she still mainly enjoys the 'romantic' side of it, she asks every single time why Laika had to be sent in space alone, and 'what do those people do to her?'.
Children perceive animals as having a much higher level of emotional intelligence than one might think, and unless they are taught otherwise they are naturally protecting animals rights, as if they were their own.

The controversy is now on whether to use of animals in 21st century space exploration and in particular in missions to Mars.
Because of the high level of radiation on the red planet, US, European and Russian space agencies have considered testing the effect on primates before sending humans to Mars, as monkeys and humans have approximately identical sensitivity to small and large radiation doses.

"Over the past 50 years, American and Soviet scientists have utilized the animal world for testing. Despite losses, these animals have taught the scientists a tremendous amount more than could have been learned without them. Without animal testing in the early days of the human space program, the Soviet and American programs could have suffered great losses of human life. These animals performed a service to their respective countries that no human could or would have performed. They gave their lives and/or their service in the name of technological advancement, paving the way for humanity's many forays into space". [Source NASA]

Luckily, the number of missions  involving animals has dramatically after human went into space.
Martin Barstow, director of the Leicester Institute of Space and Earth Observation said:
 “We know a lot about radiation and how it affects humans and animals. The issue of radiation for a trip to Mars is more about understanding what the doses will be, and testing protection systems and I don’t see why you would need to use animals to test and verify that. We are much more sophisticated in the ways we measure and test that now.” [source: Independent.co.uk]
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Laika, The Astronaut Dog [2013]
by Owen Davey
English-language edition published by Templar Books
Reading age: 3+
Themes: History, Non-Fiction, Science





“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

Mahatma Gandhi




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