At a time when space travel was still new, scientists chose to send animals for experiments on space travel. While the Americans went with monkeys and chimpanzees, the Russians preferred dogs for their experiments, starting off with Laika in 1957.
Laika, a stray dog found on the streets was chosen for their project, with their reasoning being that strays were more accustomed to living in harsh conditions. As part of their space acclimatization training, the dogs stayed in progressively smaller cages, and were trained to eat only high nutrition gels as food.
Unfortunately, Laika died a few hours of the spacecraft being launched, due to overheating in the capsule as it entered Earth. However, due to the sensitivity of the space program at that time, the newspapers reported its death as being caused by a lack of oxygen, or by poisoned food before the oxygen ran out.
Despite the cruel conditions which Laika endured, at least by modern standards, her maiden space orbit helped prove that living things could survive a launch into space and tolerate the effects of weightlessness.
A memorial was built near the Russian cosmonaut training facility, depicting a dog standing on top of a rocket.