I think our space programme is one of our species’ greatest achievements. It does have a sordid past, though, with roots in war, conflict, aggression, violence, paranoia, and narrow-minded parochial/tribal brutality. Which makes it all the more remarkable that I think it unites us as a species now, when it was born of such acrimonious and savage division. But probably one of the greatest crimes of the early days our species’ space programmes is the death of Laika.
A congenial, friendly, and very patient stray picked up from the streets of Moscow who cooperated enthusiastically with all the scientists and engineers and programme managers until she was shot out into space to die a horrible death by being roasted alive as the climate controls failed. Not that it was ever planned for her to make it back alive: it was a one-way trip from the get-go. And for no real gain in scientific or engineering knowledge: it was just a PR stunt in the game of one-upsmanship that characterized to early days of the space programmes of both countries.
Oleg Gazenko, one of the scientists responsible for sending Laika into space: “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.”