As our workshop report on animal telemetry suggests, animal telemetry has come of age. But the technology has a history that now extends back some fifty years. One of the first well publicised uses of animal telemetry involves the sad tale of Laika, the first dog in space.
In 1957, Laika was rocketed into orbit on board the soviet spacecraft Sputnik 2. At the time it was unknown if living creatures could survive in space.
Laika was put in a hermetically sealed chamber with food and an air-conditioning plant, consisting of a regenerating outfit and a system of heat control. Also installed were instruments to register the dog’s pulse, respiration and blood pressure, apparatus to take electro-cardiograms, and sensitive elements to measure the temperature and pressure in the chamber. Radio telemetry transmitted these readings back to Earth at fixed intervals.
The ‘experiment’ was due to last about a week, at which time the oxygen would run out (at the time the technology didn’t exist to bring the spacecraft safely back to Earth). Sputnik 2 was hailed as a historic triumph by the Soviets who announced that Laika had been euthanised just prior to the oxygen running out. Many years later, after the Soviet collapse, it was revealed that Laika had actually died hours into the flight because of equipment failure.