Today I am remembering a milestone. This weekend saw the anniversary of the first animal—Laika the mongrel dog from the early Russian space program—to orbit Earth on November 3, 1957. I was seven months old at the time and don’t remember a thing but that’s neither here nor there. What I do know is this dog rode a rocket into Earth orbit, 2,000 miles above Moscow, and the rest of us, while we (quite possibly) slept peacefully in our beds. Most of us, at the time, unaware of Laika’s plight to enter into history on a one-way suicide trip, aboard the Soviet’s Sputnik 2 capsule.
Laika first came to my attention a few years later when, as a spindly 6 year-old, I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. And I promptly answered, apparently, a cosmonaut. No, not astronaut. Cosmonaut. Why, I was then asked. Because, I told my questioner—according to what my father told me years later—I was going to be Empress of Mars.
No, no don’t ask. At six years old, this all made perfect sense to me, at the time. You have to know that my sister had also been reading me A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. And going one better, decided to be an Empress when I got to Mars—yes, you read right, when I got to Mars. If John Carter could ‘apparate’ there, then so could I.
It was after making a statement to the fact I was told maybe I might need a rocket. And so, began to read and research (yes, even at that young age) all about space flight, and how I would get to Mars if a ‘teleportation’ machine was out of the question, and only available in fiction.
Do you know how devastated I was to know I couldn’t travel instantaneously to Mars? H. G. Wells also has a lot to answer for, but that’s a whole other story.
That aside, I began my love affair with science and science fiction from that very young age. I collected a lot of Soviet memorabilia, including stamps, at that time. All of which led me to Laika, the brave Soviet Rocket Dog, who, had they lived, would probably be about my age, today … no, wait—
What’s that in dog years? Damn, I feel old!