From Smithsonian.com by Alice George:
With a pounding heart and rapid breath, Laika rode a rocket into Earth orbit, 2,000 miles above Moscow streets she knew. Overheated, cramped, frightened, and probably hungry, the space dog gave her life for her country, involuntarily fulfilling a canine suicide mission.
Sad as this tale is, the stray husky-spitz mix became a part of history as the first living creature to orbit the Earth. Over the decades, the petite pioneer has repeatedly found new life in popular culture long after her death and the fiery demise of her Soviet ship, Sputnik 2, which smashed into the Earth’s atmosphere 60 years ago this month.
Soviet engineers planned Sputnik 2 hastily after Premier Nikita Khrushchev requested a flight to coincide with November 7, 1957, the 40th anniversary of Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution. Using what they had learned from the unmanned and undogged Sputnik 1 and often working without blueprints, teams labored quickly to build a ship that included a pressurized compartment for a flying dog. Sputnik 1 had made history, becoming the first man-made object in Earth orbit October 4, 1957. Sputnik 2 would go into orbit with the final stage of the rocket attached, and engineers believed the ship’s 1,120-pound payload, six times as heavy as Sputnik 1, could be kept within limits by feeding its passenger only once.