The Soviet Union launches the first animal to orbit the earth into space—a dog nicknamed Laika—aboard the Sputnik 2 spacecraft.
Laika, part Siberian husky, lived as a stray on the Moscow streets before being enlisted into the Soviet space program. Laika survived for a few hours as a passenger in the USSR’s second artificial Earth satellite, kept alive by a sophisticated life-support system. Electrodes attached to her body provided scientists on the ground with important information about the biological effects of space travel. She died from overheating and panic.
At least a dozen more Russian dogs were launched into space in preparation for the first manned Soviet space mission, and at least five of these dogs died in flight. On April 12, 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into space, aboard the spacecraft Vostok 1. He orbited Earth once before landing safely in the USSR.