TIME space

The Sad Story of Laika, the First Dog Launched Into Orbit

Laika, Russian cosmonaut dog, 1957.
Laika, Russian cosmonaut dog, in 1957. Heritage Images / Getty Images

Nov. 3, 1957: The Soviet Union sends the first living creature into orbit

It was a Space Race victory that would have broken Sarah McLachlan’s heart. On this day, Nov. 3, in 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first-ever living animal into orbit: a dog named Laika. The flight was meant to test the safety of space travel for humans, but it was a guaranteed suicide mission for the dog, since technology hadn’t advanced as far as the return trip.

Laika was a stray, picked up from the Moscow streets just over a week before the rocket was set to launch. She was promoted to cosmonaut based partly on her size (small) and demeanor (calm), according to the Associated Press. All of the 36 dogs the Soviets sent into space — before Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit Earth — were strays, chosen for their scrappiness. (Other dogs had gone into space before Laika, but only for sub-orbital launches.) The mission was another in a series of coups for the Soviet Union, which was then leading the way in space exploration while the United States lagged. Just a month earlier, they had launched Sputnik, the world’s first satellite. When Laika’s vessel, Sputnik 2, shot into orbit, the U.S. fell even further behind.

News media alternated between mockery and pity for the dog sent into space. According to a 1957 TIME report on how the press was covering the event, “headlines yelped such barbaric new words as pupnik and pooch-nik, sputpup and woofnik,” before ultimately settling on “Muttnik.”

“The Chicago American noted: ‘The Russian sputpup isn’t the first dog in the sky. That honor belongs to the dog star. But we’re getting too Sirius,’” the piece adds.

Other headline-writers treated Laika with more compassion. According to another story in the same issue, the Brits were especially full of feeling for the dog — and outrage toward the Russians. “THE DOG WILL DIE, WE CAN’T SAVE IT, wailed London’s mass-minded Daily Mirror,” the story declares. The Soviet embassy in London was forced to switch from celebration mode to damage control.

“The Russians love dogs,” a Soviet official protested, per TIME. “This has been done not for the sake of cruelty but for the benefit of humanity.”

Nearly a half-century later, Russian officials found themselves handling PR fallout once again after it was revealed that reports of Laika’s humane death were greatly exaggerated.

Although they had long insisted that Laika expired painlessly after about a week in orbit, an official with Moscow’s Institute for Biological Problems leaked the true story in 2002: She died within hours of takeoff from panic and overheating, according to the BBC. Sputnik 2 continued to orbit the Earth for five months, then burned up when it reentered the atmosphere in April 1958.

One of Laika’s human counterparts in the Soviet space program recalled her as a good dog. He even brought her home to play with his children before she began her space odyssey.

“Laika was quiet and charming,” Dr. Vladimir Yazdovsky wrote in a book about Soviet space medicine, as quoted by the AP. “I wanted to do something nice for her: She had so little time left to live.”

Read TIME’s 1957 take on Laika’s launch, here in the archives: The She-Hound of Heaven

TIME Environment

Scientists Get a Little More Creative to Study Penguins Up-Close

Antarctica, Antarctic Peninsula, Paulet Island, Adelie
Penguins jump into the water on Paulet Island in Antarctica. Wolfgang Kaehler—LightRocket/Getty Images

They made four-wheel rovers look like baby emperor penguins

Scientists may have discovered a way to study animals without disturbing their natural behavior, according to a new study, and it involves dressing up.

Observing animals without disturbing their state of being has long been an issue, the researchers wrote in Nature Methods. So, in an effort to fix that, an international team of scientists made four-wheel rovers look like baby emperor penguins and drove them over to colonies of the animals to gauge their reactions and collect data.

The scientists implanted microchips in about 34 king penguins to monitor the animals’ heart rates when they were approached by the rovers, according to CNET. Turns out, they were slightly less stressed (and notably for shorter periods of time) when approached by the rovers than when near humans. The animals were so comfortable around the robotic penguin that adult ones sang to it and the babies huddled around it as if it were their own.

TIME animals

This Rare Chicken’s Body is Entirely Black—Including Its Organs, Meat and Bones

Just one chicken costs around $2,500

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This article originally appeared on Lost at E Minor.

Prepare to meet the so-called Lamborghini of Poultry. This is the Ayam Cemani Chicken of Indonesia. It’s a rare breed of chicken, and you can probably see why. Everything about it is black: plumage, beak, tongue, legs, toe nails, even its meat, bones and organs! The only thing that is not black is it’s blood – though it comes in a very dark shade.

The word ‘Ayam’ means ‘chicken’ in Indonesian, and ‘Cemani’ translates as ‘completely black’ in Javanese. They get their black coloring from a genetic trait known as ‘fibromelanosis’. Don’t ever make the mistake of slaughtering it for a quick snack, because one chicken costs around $2,500! For comparison, 15 average chickens would cost you just $85, while other special breeds cost about $149, making the Ayam Cemani well-deserving of its nickname.

(Via Viral Forest)

TIME animals

Celebrate National Cat Day With the Most Ridiculous Cover in TIME History

Dec. 7, 1981, cover of TIME
The Dec. 7, 1981, cover of TIME Neil Leifer

Yes, a sassy feline once sat inside the magazine's red border

Today is National Cat Day — even though it kind of feels like every day is National Cat Day on the Internet. To celebrate this momentous occasion, we decided to take a look back at a key moment in TIME’s history: that time in 1981 when cats were the most important news of the week.

It’s true. On Dec. 7, 1981, TIME’s cover featured a green-eyed feline model paired with the cover line “CATS: Love ‘em! Hate ‘em!” The corresponding story, called “Crazy Over Cats,” declared the animals a “national mania.” Fun fact: Maureen Dowd, then a young TIME correspondent, was a reporter and researcher on the story, which outlined humans’ complex relationship with felines. As J.D. Reed wrote:

From deification to demonization, and every stage in between, attitudes toward cats have been confused, variable, peculiar, consuming, jittery and, ultimately, baffling. Those sinuous forms represented in Egyptian art, valued as rodent-chasers by farmers, or draped luxuriously over an apartment radiator have elicited the best and worst from mankind in the 5,000 years since their domestication. The dog may be man’s best friend, but the cat is his most perplexing one, if, indeed, he is one at all.

Though this cover was obviously a very silly one, it should be noted that plenty of other TIME covers have been just as ridiculous — especially in 1981, for some reason. (See: this one about ice cream, and this one about fitness.) Few, however, have been quite so prescient. More than three decades ago, TIME knew that cats were nothing to LOL about.

The Dec. 7, 1981, cover story is now available free of charge in TIME’s archives. Click here to read it in its entirety: Crazy Over Cats

TIME animals

Giant Tortoises Are Back From Near Extinction

A giant turtle is pictured at the zoo in Duisburg on Sept. 24, 2007.
A giant turtle is pictured at the zoo in Duisburg on Sept. 24, 2007. Ina Fassbender—Reuters

They were down to only 15 about 50 years ago

Giant tortoises endemic to the Galapagos Islands are back from near extinction, according to a study published Tuesday in PLOS One.

The Espanola giant tortoises, a species that can live for over 100 years, had numbered in the thousands but dropped to 15 by 1960 due to human exploitation, the study said. Between 1963 and 1974, conservationists brought the 12 female and three male surviving giant tortoises into captivity. Over 1,500 of their offspring have since been released onto the island, and the species’ survival no longer requires human intervention, scientists said.

“The population is secure. It’s a rare example of how biologists and managers can collaborate to recover a species from the brink of extinction,” said James P. Gibbs, the study’s lead author and a professor of at the State University of New York’s Environmental Science and Forestry, in a press release.

Reintroducing the giant tortoise population not only promotes biodiversity but also restores their position as “ecosystem engineers” who disperse seeds and other organisms, according to the report. While the population is stable, the number of Espanola giant tortoises is not likely to increase substantially until other problems in the environment, such as the overgrowth of woody plants, are resolved.

TIME Humor

Greatest Prank Ever? These Jokers Put a Giant Spider Outfit on a Dog

Check out this cute puppy dressed up as a giant mutant spider

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This article originally appeared on Lost at E Minor.

This has to be the most brutal prank we’ve seen. Well, this or the undead elevator girl. But that’s another story altogether. For this prank, the jokers at SA Wardega dressed a cute puppy up as a giant mutant spider and then went to great lengths to unleash (get it?) the ‘spider’ in a variety of scenarios on the unsuspecting public. Terrifying? TERRIFYING! We aged 5 years just watching it. (This is officially the most viral post run on Lost At E Minor.)

How would’ve you acted if you were in their horrified shoes? (Also check out this awesomely terrifying elevator prank!)

TIME animals

This Video Shows What It’s Like to Go Hunting as a Lion in the Wilds of Africa

It's almost like it's YOUR teeth sinking into the neck of a wild buck!

Self-proclaimed “Lion Whisperer” Kevin Richardson decided to take a GoPro camera and strap it to the back of a daring lioness named Meg as she prowls through the wild plains of South Africa. He trails a few feet behind her, offering commentary (in his awesome South African accent) as she stalks her prey.

Don’t worry, the video isn’t too graphic — but it does show the lioness taking down a wild back around 2 and a half minutes in, so be aware.

(h/t io9)

TIME animals

See Adorable Puppies Shaking Their Fur

Shake, shake, shake

Shake Puppies by photographer Carli Davidson features more than 60 puppies as they adorably flop around ringing out their fuzzy fur.

The photographs crisply capture the puppies mid-shake, revealing the almost surreal range of motions that normally only exist as a blur to the naked eye, while the brightly colored backgrounds help provide a sharp contrast to the puppies’ motions.

Who knew shaking puppies could be so cute?

Shake Puppies is on sale Oct. 28.

TIME animals

African Lions Are Facing Extinction

A lions yawns at Nairobi's National Park
A lions yawns at Nairobi's National Park on March 11, 2013 Marko Djurica—Reuters

The U.S. moves to list them as “threatened”

African lions are headed toward extinction and may be wiped out soon, according to an analysis from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that on Monday proposed categorizing them as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.

A statement from the service listed the main threats to the big cats as loss of habitat, a diminishing availability of prey and increased conflict with humans. It noted that around 70% of Africa’s lion population is concentrated in just 10 areas on the continent.

By listing a species as endangered, the service said it could offer benefits “primarily by prohibiting certain activities including import, export, commercial activity, interstate commerce and foreign commerce.” This, it said, would ensure “that people under the jurisdiction of the United States do not contribute to the further decline of listed species.”

Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe said that “the full protection of U.S. law” would be brought to the endangered animals. “It is up to all of us, not just the people of Africa, to ensure that healthy, wild populations continue to roam the savannah for generations to come,” he said.

TIME animals

See the Most Amazing Biology Photos of the Year

The Society of Biology, a British group dedicated to the life sciences, holds an annual amateur photography competition. The theme this year was home, habitat and shelter

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