Tag Archives: Laika

Sugar Grove: April 2020, Part VII (Expedition Memoirs)

In 1957, the town of Sugar Grove in Pendleton County, West Virginia, had a population of twenty-one residents.  A single crossroad marks the center of the community, with the post office, general store, and gas station combined in a single structure overlooked by a church from across the street.  The rest of the town’s center would have consisted of a few houses lining Sugar Grove and Moyers Gap road.  These roads, like most in this part of Appalachia, follow the curves of fluvial plains long dammed up by civil workers employed through the New Deal.  Although rich with sediments, the rocky soil would only yield a limited number of plots suitable for agriculture, thus limiting the effects of any consequent population booms.  And so whereas towns like Charlestown and Harrisonburg saw upticks in both population and wealth, Sugar Grove remained small and remote.  Few who heard the steady beep from the Soviet satellite Sputnik that October could have imagined its ramifications on the small town.

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Timberline: April 2020, Part VI (Expedition Memoirs)

No plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy’s main strength.

Helmuth von Moltke, 1871.

We departed Sinclair Hollow just before midday, driving north by way of the same rutted trail we had taken on the way in two days before.  Crossing the streams again, we saw a sign hidden amid the foliage in such a way that it had not been visible when driving south.  The sign was a simple metal post with a metal plate bolted to the top.  A white sticker about the size of my hand was affixed to the sign, advising passersby that they were being monitored via security camera.  It seemed an odd place for a security camera, particularly given the apparent dearth of civilization in the area; there were no roads or trails leading into the woods, no power lines or permanent structures, or even a day-use picnic spot, from which a security camera might draw power.  Satellite imagery of the drive that day bears this out, showing no signs of habitation in that part of the Forest, as well as no plots of private property even remotely close to where we were passing.  We chocked it up to some local playing a joke on out-of-towners like us and laughed it off.

Scenic western overlook along Union Springs Trail, September 2019.
Western outlook along Union Springs Trail, September 2019.
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Laika’s Revenge, Pt. 2

Part of 2100 CE.

Continues from Part 1.


By placing Laika station in polar orbit, DESS provoked a conflict with national powers meant to define the Directorate’s place on the world’s stage. Although officially under the auspices of the international confederation mandated by the Treaty of Reykjavik, as the only major international agency in outer space, DESS effectively operated independent of authorities on earth. With three orbiting bases from which to monitor traffic coming and leaving the Earth, it was feared that DESS would create a toll”pay-to-play” system for travel into orbit, particularly after DESS was tasked with providing customs services for the space colonies and the moon. For the superpowers on Earth in particular, this represented a veritable infringement of sovereignty, and there were many who questioned at what height national airspace terminated and therefore whether or not Laika violated that airspace, with the most hawkish among them suggesting the use of nuclear warheads to destroy the asteroid. Before any such drastic action could be taken, DESS once more demonstrated its ability to manage public opinion in its favor. The Directorate took great pains to demonstrate to representatives from the major powers the civilian nature of operations taking place on each of the stations, all the while citing figures which correlated a decrease in space traffic collisions and near-hits with the installation of the space traffic control stations and expanded communications arrays on the three stations. Combined with a social media campaign meant to display the wonders of the earth and space captured via cameras and instruments housed aboard Laika, Dess, and Nyphthys, the complaints were lost with time, and DESS established itself a global power.

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Laika’s Revenge

Part of 2100 CE.

It was a frigid day 31 October 1957 in the Tyuratam region of Kazakhstan, but the engineers and scientists assembled at the launch site that day hardly noticed the cold. Their attention was fixed on the rocket Sputnik-2 and its capsule; a copy of the more-famous Sputnik-1 satellite that had beeped its way into the Eisenhower administration’s nightmares, this second Sputnik was modified to carry a passenger. The first non-microbial life to enter outer space was not human, but was instead man’s best friend, a dog. Her name was ‘Laika’ (Russian Лайка, “barker”) and until a few months prior she had been just one of many stray dogs living on the streets of Moscow. After undergoing weeks of training meant to test primarily for psychological dexterity under extreme stress, Laika was selected as the primary candidate for spaceflight, with a second dog as her backup and a third as a control. She took her final walk and was placed in the capsule on 31 October, tethered to the inside of the capsule by chains attached to a harness she wore, giving her enough mobility to stand, sit, and lie down, but little more. She remained in the craft in this manner until the launch day of 3 November as both a final evaluation of Laika’s ability to handle stress and to give Soviet scientists enough time to correct for errors found in the rocket and its systems. During that time, Laika remained under the care of handler-technicians who looked after her, the spacecraft then being on the ground and the capsule still open to the air. At about 1 a.m. on November 3rd, Laika was secured one last time and the capsule was lifted to the nose of the rocket, where she awaited her voyage to orbit, all the while her handlers providing her freezing capsule with warm air fed via a hose until moments before takeoff. It was a small attempt to make her final minutes on Earth comfortable; handler and technician Yevgeniy Shabarov recounted that “after placing Laika in the container and before closing the hatch, we kissed her nose and wished her bon voyage, knowing that she would not survive the flight.”

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