Laika's Window: The Legacy of a Soviet Space Dog

Kurt Caswell (Author)


Laika began her life as a stray dog on the streets of Moscow and died in 1957 aboard the Soviet satellite Sputnik II. Initially the USSR reported that Laika, the first animal to orbit the earth, had survived in space for seven days, providing valuable data that would make future manned space flight possible. People believed that Laika died a painless death as her oxygen ran out. Only in recent decades has the real story become public: Laika died after only a few hours in orbit when her capsule overheated. Laika's Window positions Laika as a long overdue hero for leading the way to human space exploration.

Kurt Caswell examines Laika's life and death and the speculation surrounding both. Profiling the scientists behind Sputnik II, he studies the political climate driven by the Cold War and the Space Race that expedited the satellite's development. Through this intimate portrait of Laika, we begin to understand what the dog experienced in the days and hours before the launch, what she likely experienced during her last moments, and what her flight means to history and to humanity. While a few of the other space dog flights rival Laika's in endurance and technological advancements, Caswell argues that Laika's flight serves as a tipping point in space exploration "beyond which the dream of exploring nearby and distant planets opened into a kind of fever from which humanity has never recovered."

Examining the depth of human empathy--what we are willing to risk and sacrifice in the name of scientific achievement and our exploration of the cosmos, and how politics and marketing can influence it--Laika's Windowis also about our search to overcome loneliness and the role animals play in our drive to look far beyond the earth for answers.

Product Details

$24.95  $22.95
Trinity University Press
Publish Date
October 30, 2018
5.5 X 1.0 X 8.6 inches | 0.85 pounds
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About the Author

Kurt Caswell is a writer and professor of creative writing and literature in the Honors College at Texas Tech University, where he teaches intensive field courses on writing and leadership. He is also on the faculty at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. His books include Getting to Grey Owl: Journeys on Four Continents, In the Sun's House: My Year Teaching on the Navajo Reservation, An Inside Passage, which won the 2008 River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Book Prize, and an anthology of nature writing, To Everything on Earth: New Writing on Fate, Community, and Nature, which he coedited with Susan Leigh Tomlinson and Diane Heuter Warner. His essays have appeared in ISLE, Isotope, Matter, Ninth Letter, Orion, River Teeth, and the American Literary Review. He lives in Lubbock, Texas.


"Caswell celebrates humankind's need to reach the stars and the little dog who helped make it possible." -- Booklist

"A powerful book about the first animal to orbit the earth. Caswell traces Laika's short life in space, the speculation surrounding her death, the impact of her journey on human exploration, and the political implications of the experiment." -- BOMB Magazine

"Laika's Window is a compassionate exploration of the first animal to orbit the Earth, a little dog named Laika, who was deliberately sent to her death." -- Shelf Awareness

"A remarkable and haunting story....a moving tribute to the mutually beneficial bond between man and dog." -- Publishers Weekly

"In 1957 the Soviet Union sent its second satellite into orbit around Earth, this one carrying a dog named Laika. Sputnik 2 made 2,570 revolutions over five months before its fiery reentry in our planet's atmosphere. Laika did not survive her journey-- an outcome the space agency anticipated. Writer Caswell profiles the program that trained dozens of such "space dogs" as test subjects for early missions. Plucked from the streets of Moscow, Laika endured extreme gravitational forces, vibration and long periods of isolation. She was the first animal to orbit Earth. The program was a "tipping point" for space exploration, Caswell writes, but Laika's treatment was undeniably cruel. The book is meant as a testament to her experience." -- Scientific American

"Caswell positions Laika as an animal astronaut rather than a lab animal and showcases the bond between Laika and the Soviet space scientists, redefining the story of Laika and the space dogs, the pioneers of all our space endeavors." -- Chris Dubbs, author of Animals in Space: From Research Rockets to the Space Shuttle

"Brilliant, original, and heartbreaking, Laika's Window takes us on a journey into the fascinating history of animals and humans in space travel and, beyond that, into the nature of our own loneliness as creatures, both here on earth and out in the vastness of the cosmos. Caswell's tender consideration of Laika and her life is infectious, and I found myself just as invested in this little being that had been shot into space so many years ago. I won't forget this powerful book, which brings us one step closer to making sense of our place in the universe." -- Taylor Larsen, author of Stranger, Father, Beloved

"Laika's Window is a magnificent account of one of the world's most famously tragic dogs. Combining meticulous scholarship of the Cold War era, profound sociopolitical analysis, unerring literary skill, and--the book's great surprise--some of the most heartrending, haunting reflections ever written on the relations between canines and humans, Kurt Caswell's masterwork shot an arrow through my dog-loving heart yet left me nothing but grateful for the experience. This is a mesmerizing tale by a writer as sensitive and heartful as he is brilliant."-- David James Duncan, author of The Brothers K and The River Why

"In the story of Laika the space dog, Kurt Caswell vividly shows how that famous flight was, in Muir's words, 'hitched to everything else in the universe, ' including the ethical treatment of animals, the Cold War, and the vastness of space exploration." -- David Gessner, author of All the Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and the American West

"Poignant, lyrical, and sometimes heartbreaking, Laika's Window excavates a vital moment in human history with equal parts compassion and intelligence. Caswell's impressive research and deft prose make it impossible to resist falling head-over-heels for the affable and unwitting Mutnik who forever changed our place in the solar system." -- Kathryn Miles, author of Quakeland: On the Road to America's Next Devastating Earthquake