History of Medicine
On November 3, 1957, the U.S.S.R. launched the satellite Sputnik II, carrying within it a small Russian dog, Laika. The first living being to orbit the Earth, she embodied multiple meanings on both sides of the Iron Curtain. For the Kremlin, her mission commemorated the fortieth anniversary of the "great October Socialist revolution," and she emerged as a canine hero of the Soviet Union. Gazing up at the night sky, many Americans saw the small dog as a terrifying declaration of Communist technological supremacy and American vulnerability.
Laika also revived the long raging debate over vivisection. Countless Americans bristled at Soviet inhumanity. As news of Laika’s death from overheating reached the West, American antivivisectionists capitalized on the "Muttnic Affair," turning popular anticommunism against researchers who had so successfully employed it against animal protectionists over the previous decade.
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Laboratory researchers in the United States were measured and even awkwardly supportive of their Soviet counterparts’ Laika mission, as reflected in this November 1957 wire release from the National Society for Medical Research, written before news of Laika’s death, and the absence of any plans for her safe return, became known.
(NLM, MS C 417, Box 42)
While the debate over animal experimentation still rages, the fading of the Cold War tempered at least one prominent voice. Speaking of Laika in 1989, Gazenko declared: "Work with animals is a source of suffering to all of us. . . . The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it. We shouldn’t have done it."