Laika's Window

The Legacy of a Soviet Space Dog

The unforgettable story of Laika the Soviet space dog, the Cold War, and the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union

 

Laika began her life as a stray dog on the streets of Moscow and died in 1957 aboard the Soviet satellite Sputnik II. Initially the USSR reported that Laika, the first animal to orbit the earth, had survived in space for seven days, providing valuable data that would make future manned space flight possible. People believed that Laika died a painless death as her oxygen ran out. Only in recent decades has the real story become public: Laika died after only a few hours in orbit when her capsule overheated. Laika’s Window positions Laika as a long overdue hero for leading the way to human space exploration.

Kurt Caswell examines Laika’s life and death and the speculation surrounding both. Profiling the scientists behind Sputnik II, he studies the political climate driven by the Cold War and the Space Race that expedited the satellite’s development. Through this intimate portrait of Laika, we begin to understand what the dog experienced in the days and hours before the launch, what she likely experienced during her last moments, and what her flight means to history and to humanity. While a few of the other space dog flights rival Laika’s in endurance and technological advancements, Caswell argues that Laika’s flight serves as a tipping point in space exploration “beyond which the dream of exploring nearby and distant planets opened into a kind of fever from which humanity has never recovered.”

Examining the depth of human empathy—what we are willing to risk and sacrifice in the name of scientific achievement and our exploration of the cosmos, and how politics and marketing can influence it—Laika’s Window is also about our search to overcome loneliness and the role animals play in our drive to look far beyond the earth for answers.

Brilliant, original, and heartbreaking, Laika’s Window takes us on a journey into the fascinating history of animals and humans in space travel and, beyond that, into the nature of our own loneliness as creatures, both here on earth and out in the vastness of the cosmos. Caswell’s tender consideration of Laika and her life is infectious, and I found myself just as invested in this little being that had been shot into space so many years ago. I won’t forget this powerful book, which brings us one step closer to making sense of our place in the universe.

Taylor Larsen, author of Stranger, Father, Beloved

Laika’s Window is a magnificent account of one of the world’s most famously tragic dogs. Combining meticulous scholarship of the Cold War era, profound sociopolitical analysis, unerring literary skill, and—the book’s great surprise—some of the most heartrending, haunting reflections ever written on the relations between canines and humans, Kurt Caswell’s masterwork shot an arrow through my dog-loving heart yet left me nothing but grateful for the experience. This is a mesmerizing tale by a writer as sensitive and heartful as he is brilliant.

David James Duncan, author of The Brothers K and The River Why

 

Kurt Caswell's empathetic history of the Soviet space dog Laika, the first animal to orbit the Earth, is engaging, well researched, and provocative. Scientists gaze through the space capsule's small window at the dog before liftoff; later the pioneering dog gazes through the same window, watching the planet Earth pass silently below. What is interspecies cooperation? the author asks. What does it mean to explore? Where are we headed?

Barry Lopez, author of Arctic Dreams

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