November 3, 1957 - Sputnik II

Sputnik 2, or Prosteyshiy Sputnik 2 was the second spacecraft launched into Earth orbit, on 3 November 1957, and the first to carry a living animal, a Soviet space dog named Laika. Laika didn’t survive any orbit, and she died a few hours after the launch

Sputnik 2

The Russian spacecraft Sputnik 2 was the first rocket to be launched with a living animal on board and the second rocket to be launched into orbit overall. It was launched on November 3, 1957 and stayed in orbit for 162 days before crashing back down to Earth on April 14, 1958. The launch did not go as planned, part of the rocket did not separate as it was supposed to and the cabin’s thermal insulation ripped. The animal on board was a Samoyed Terrier known as Laika. She had been equipped with electrodes so that scientists back at the station could monitor her condition. The rocket was equipped to provide for Laika’s needs for ten days, after which it was expected she would run out of oxygen and die. Unfortunately, the issues the rocket experienced when launching inhibited its ability to regulate temperature and Laika’s chamber got up to 40°C (104°F) causing her to overheat after only two days. However, scientists were still able to gain valuable data on how living organisms behaved in space.

Even though things went wrong and Laika only lived two days this launch was incredibly important, and for all intents and purposes- successful. It was successful because the rocket did launch and Laika did live for at least a day. It was also a success for the Soviets because it put them far ahead of the United States in the Space Race. The United States had yet to launch a single rocket but the Soviets had managed to launch two, one with an animal on board. That meant that the Soviets were leaps and bounds ahead of the US in terms of the space race. The launch was extremely important because it proved beyond doubt that animals, mammals specifically, could survive in space. The data received while Laika was alive showed that though she was stressed initially her vitals became normal and she began eating her food. Not only was the launch important to science, it also had a large effect on the Cold War and Space Race.

This put a lot of pressure on American scientists and a sense of urgency quickly arose as Americans realized that they were falling behind the Soviets. Before the launch of Sputnik II President Eisenhower had stuck to a policy of only using Vanguard rockets for launching spacecrafts because they appealed to the citizens far more than ballistic rockets intended for military use. However, he abandoned this policy after the successful launch of Sputnik II due to pressure from fellow Americans as well as a fear of falling to far behind the Soviets. Eisenhower also greatly increased the funds and resources available to the space program after the successful launch of Sputnik II. The launch of Sputnik II can be directly attributed to the formation of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) on December 5th. The ARPA would manage and control all of the United State’s Space activity until NASA’s formation. Overall the launch of Sputnik II changed how American’s viewed the space race, led to changes in the way the space program was run, and led to the creation of a new space agency.


sputnik 2

Laika in her capsule before she was launched into space


By Ava Watson ’20


Works Cited

“The Impact of the Sputniks and the First Vanguard.” First Among Equals: The Origin of the Selection Process. NASA, Accessed 28 May 2020.

Pictoral Press. Laika in a Training Capsule before Her Mission to Space. Oct. 1957. Alamy, Accessed 28 May 2020.

“Project Vanguard.” Wikipedia, 7 Jan. 2020,

“Sputnik, 1957.” Office of the Historian, Accessed 28 May 2020.

Williams, David R. “NASA Space Science Coordinated Data.” NASA, 21 May 2020, Accessed 28 May 2020.

Wilson, Teresa. “This Month in Astronomical History: Launch of Sputnik 2.” American Astronomical Society, 1 Nov. 2016, Accessed 28 May 2020.