Making a graphic novel 13: Laika

Ah, Laika! A dog so famous, she has her own graphic novel. Why does she appear in ours? Because she represents the fear of the unknown that haunted both the US and Soviet manned space programs. It was simple really. No-one had ever been in space. No-one really knew if you could even survive the stresses of getting there. And once there, in zero gravity, would you be crippled by motion sickness? Would your brain malfunction? Would you go mad? Would there be other, unknown dangers? Laika made it into space, but died soon after. The important thing though, was that she didn’t die of space. With better life-support systems she could have made it back. In fact, there was no provision for bringing her back, and in the West this was sometimes ‘spun’ as an example of the ruthlessness of the Soviets. In fact it was quite untypical. As one of our little ‘side-stories’ shows, the Soviet rocket engineers were quite concerned about the welfare of their dogs. Not only that, if you look at the upper stage of the Vostok rocket, you will see a massive elliptical hole in the casing. This is to allow the capsule ejector seat to operate in the event of a problem in the early stages of lift-off. It would be a while before American astronauts had similar provision.

As a kid in the UK at the time, the Laika story was part of my growing up. No book of space facts or science encyclopaedia was complete without it. Many years later, as I worked on Yuri’s Day, I came to realise how little was really known and understood in the West about the Soviet space program. Now I can see that the authoritative looking illustration in my 1958 Collins Wonders of Science book has some odd features. Not only is the breed of dog wrong, but it never occurred to me as a child that the dog might not have a lot of use for the instrument panel shown . . . In fact, almost every detail of this hastily produced newspaper illustration is pure guesswork.

This entry was posted in Leika, Making a Graphic Novel, Sputnik, The Space Race, YURI's DAY. Bookmark the permalink.

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