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Laika - the first (and most awesome) dog in space.Since most CRACKED readers are obsessive-compulsive basement dwellers with an unhealthy fixation on arcane Soviet-era space programs, I'll assume that most of you already know that the 50th anniversary of the first Sputnik launch is right around the corner. The Sputnik program paved the way for manned missions at a time when people (even scientists) were scared to send human beings into outer space. It's easy to laugh at such naiveté today, but remember that hindsight is 20/20. Even though everybody now knows that space travel is simple, affordable and not even that big of a deal (kind of boring, really), back then the cosmos seemed a whole lot scarier. What happens when you go into space? Does your head blow up? Are there monsters up there, and if so, what do they eat? Is there food around, or should I bring a sack lunch? They had no idea! To find out, mankind had to do a few practice runs. Unfortunately, there were no astronauts yet back then, so the USA and Soviet Union were forced to use the two next best things: monkeys and dogs. We may have completely mastered space travel a long time ago, but that's no reason not to pay homage to those brave monkeys and dogs who risked (or lost) their lives in pursuit of the greater good, those furry fellows who wanted nothing more than to see their captors colonize the moon, or possibly Mars. Maybe that would mean no more pulling levers when the light bulb turned on. Maybe the electric shocks would stop, and they could finally sleep. Yes, sleep... Precious, precious sleep... But I digress. In homage to those great monkeys and dogs, I'd like to take a moment to remember them in a way befitting their greatness: in a no-holds-barred cage match. Monkeys vs. Dogs, winner takes the much-coveted title of "Better Astronaut." The games begin after the jump! Challenger #1: MONKEYS (Clockwise from top left) Gordo, Able & Baker, Sam, and Baker (solo). Gordo (top left, aka "Old Reliable") was launched by NASA at Cape Canaveral on December 13, 1958. After soaring majestically for 1500 miles and climbing to a height of 310 miles, a parachute malfunction sent him and his rocket careening into the Atlantic Ocean. He "suffered no ill effects" from the entry into space, nor from the effects of weightlessness. The parachute malfunction probably caused some fairly serious problems, though. Does death by atomization count as an "ill effect"? Able & Baker (top right, bottom left is Baker solo) were launched on May 28, 1959. They were weightless for 9 minutes and survived pressure 38 times greater than we experience here on Earth. Both Able & Baker were recovered after the mission and both appeared unharmed. A few months later, Able died during an operation to remove the electrodes they had planted in him. Oopsies! Sam (bottom right) was launched out of Virginia on December 4, 1959, achieved a maximum altitude of 280,000 feet, then floated back to Earth and landed safely in the Atlantic. For the first time in recorded history, sending a monkey into space was totally fucking boring. space dogs.  how sweet is that?! Challeger #2: DOGS Russia's Laika (top left & right) was the first living creature to enter Earth's orbit on November 3, 1957. She died a few hours after launch, but let's face it - where do you go from there as a dog, anyway? Her legacy survives today mostly in the form of obscure vintage stamps and some whimsical Swedish movie that my girlfriend really likes. Belka & Strelka (bottom right) spent a day in space together on Sputnik 5 on August 19, 1960. Along for the ride were a rabbit, 42 mice, 2 rats, flies, plants and fungi. Everyone survived and Strelka went on to have 6 puppies. Snooooooze. Pchelka & Mushka (bottom left, image taken onboard Sputnik 6) went into orbit on December 1, 1960 with a bunch of bugs and plants. Good for them, right? Wrong. The ship disintegrated during re-entry and everyone died. On the plus side, it did prove the hypothesis that disintegrating space ships can kill all kinds of different things. Winner: TIE I'd love to give you a winner here, but the truth of the matter is that sending animals into space is just kind of awesome. Dogs, monkeys... it doesn't matter. Once they put those little suits on and strap into their little ejector seats, it's all the same - they're animals doing things that people do! Ha ha ha! They think they're people!
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