It’s a common observation that dogs are our species’ closest companions. One must consider it odd, then, that upon consideration of the history of human space flight, our relationship to our canine comrades in microgravity bears none of the hallmarks of a close friendship. Indeed, government space programs have generally treated the animals they have sent into orbit with outright contempt, demonstrating little to no concern about the safe return of these animals to terra firma.

This sordid tradition began 60 years ago with Laika, a 3-year old dog pulled off the streets by the Soviets and launched into orbit aboard Sputnik 2 in 1957. The technology needed to ensure Laika’s safe return to Earth had not yet been developed at the time that Laika became the intelligent mammal to orbit the Earth. From one perspective, it was a suicide mission; from another, it was murder.

Laika lasted only a few hours in space. The Soviet space program initially reported that it had euthanized her before her oxygen was depleted, although it was revealed in 2002 that Laika had, in fact, died a painful death from overheating in orbit. But Laika’s torment had begun weeks earlier, as Soviet scientists confined her and her fellow canine test subjects to ever-smaller cages, depriving them of basic necessities to prepare them for the rigors of space. Rather than increased preparedness, Laika and the anonymous canine subjects swallowed by history merely saw a deterioration of their health.

In the end, it was all for nothing—as one of the Soviet scientists responsible for the mission recalled after the collapse of the USSR, “We did not learn enough from this mission to justify the death of the dog.” It’s difficult to imagine allowing such inhumane experiments to transpire today, especially with so little scientific justification. But the US and Soviet governments were blinded to their animal cruelty by their all-consuming passion for military dominance in space and on Earth.

As the revolutionary vanguard of humanity’s future in space, ASAN aims to rectify the past by paving the way for a future in space in which our canine companions can safely accompany us as we explore the cosmos. To this end, the New York City ASAN directorate has launched the K9 Suborbital Program, which will explore humane solutions for canine cohabitation in microgravity. After sustained testing of the technologies employed by the program, a brave dog will embark on a suborbital mission launching from New York City in 2018.

To donate to the K9 Suborbital Program, visit the ASAN Patreon