Mankind has been looking up to the heavens ever since God created Adam and Eve.
In the 11th century, the Chinese launched the first rockets when they discovered that combining charcoal, sulfur and saltpeter (potassium nitrate). That combination is more commonly known as gunpowder and the Chinese used it to propel rockets at their enemies during warfare.
In the 18th century, the Sultan of Mysome, India, Hyder Ali, built a rocket using an iron sheath instead of the centuries old paper as invented by the Chinese. The use of iron instead of paper was meant to increase stability of the rocket and the range, however, since iron weighs more than paper, the rockets required larger quantity of gunpowder to propel it.
On March 16, 1926, the first rocket using a liquid fuel instead of gunpowder was launched by the Father of Modern Rocketry, Robert Goddard.
On July 17, 1929, Goddard launches his fourth rocket, but this was the first time a rocket carried scientific instruments. Goddard sent a barometer and camera up with this launch.
On October 3, 1942, Nazi German scientists launch the first ballistic missile commonly referred to as the V2 rocket. Germany used the V2 rockets in the later stages of World War II, but the earlier versions lacked accuracy.
On September 29, 1945, six German scientists escaped Germany and arrived at Fort Bliss, Texas.
On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launches an R-7 two stage rocket into space with the first satellite, Sputnik 1. The R-7 was modified from an intercontinental ballistic missile. The Soviet launch of Sputnik 1 is considered by many as the start of the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States.
On this day, November 3, 1957, the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik 2 satellite along with the first living animal, a dog named Laika (Russian for ‘barker’). Laika was a small stray dog that was picked up on the streets of Moscow. Media around the world referred to Liaka and launch of Sputnik 2 as Muttnik, Pupnik, Poochnik, Sputpup, and Woofnik.
Some argue that Laika was not the first living animal sent into space but the several dogs that were blasted off by the Soviets only made sub-orbital launches where Laika was the first to reach earth’s orbit.
Initially, when the word of the Soviet launch of Laika became public, the official word was that they fully intended to bring the dog safely back to earth. However, there was no provision to return Sputnik 2 with Laika back to earth safely.
When many animal rights advocates began questioning how Laika was doing, how much oxygen, water and food did the dog have, it was finally announced by the Soviet government that Laika had been humanely euthanized after a week in space.
It was not revealed until after the collapse of the Soviet Union that Laika had expired within hours of being launched into orbit. However, reports vary about how the dog expired. Some reports claim the dog was euthanized just hours after launch, others claim that the dog succumbed to excess heat and others said it died from lack of oxygen.
On January 31, 1958, America launched their first satellite, Explorer 1, into space.
On March 17, 1958, America launched the Vanguard 1 satellite into space. That was a really proud day in our house as my dad had spray painted part of the Vanguard 1 satellite in the late 1950s, it was really something to have anything you did launched into space.
On April 4, 1958, Sputnik 2 fell from orbit was burned up as it re-entered earth’s atmosphere. Along with the satellite, the body of Laika was also incinerated so no one was ever able to fully conclude how Laika died.
On May 15, 1958, the Soviets launched Sputnik 2.
On April 12, 1961, Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human launched into space. Between the time the Soviets sent Laika into space on this day in 1957 to the launch of Gagarin, the Soviets sent a total of 36 dogs into space. All of the dogs that were sent into space were strays.
Sources for the above includes: The Sad Story of Laika, the First Dog Launched Into Orbit; First Dog in Space Died Within Hours; Laika the Dog & the First Animals in Space; Laika the Dog; Russian Memorial for Space Dog Laika (Updated); Laika, the First Dog in Space; Timeline: 50 Years of Spaceflight; Timeline of Space Exploration