When World War II ended, the Cold War, a political and ideological battle between the communist world (led by the Soviet Union) and the Western democracies (led by the United States), began. A dog named Laika took center stage in that geopolitical struggle.
In October 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the world's first human-made satellite. Although it was only the size of a basketball, the idea of a communist spaceship orbiting Earth sent a shudder from one end of the Free World to the other. Sputnik could have easily been a nuclear warhead.
A few weeks later, the Soviets staged another coup by launching Laika into orbit. A stray dog from the streets of Moscow, Laika was the first living creature from Earth in outer space. Laika, which means "barker," bested them both.
Unfortunately, Laika's mission was always meant to be a one-way flight. The Soviets made no provisions for landing the craft. Russian officials said at the time the pup died in orbit about a week after leaving. In reality, according to new research, the pooch died shortly after liftoff from stress and overheating, as the temperature and humidity increased inside the capsule [sources: Whitehouse, Wellerstein].