November 03 – Launch of Sputnik 2 (1957)

Sputnik 2 was launched by the USSR on November 3rd, 1957, and was the first spaceflight to carry a living creature (assuming we ignore anything microscopic that might have hitched a lift on Sputnik 1). The creature in question was a dog, originally called Kudryavka, but renamed Laika (“Barker”) for some reason.

Sputnik 2
Sputnik 2

Sputnik 2 was considerably larger than its predecessor, being a conical design of around 13 feet high and 6 foot 7 inches diameter at the base, weighing half a tonne. A modified R-7 ICBM was used as the launch vehicle.
The plan was to keep Laika alive for as long as possible to study her vital signs, but a problem with the thermal insulation system (of which the flight engineers were aware, but had no time to fix) the cabin temperature passed 40C (100F) after only a few hours, and it is likely she died after only two or three of Sputnik 2’s 103 minute orbits (the Soviets, of course, claimed she had survived for a week). Her remains were cremated on April 14, 1958, when her hi-tech coffin burned up on re-entry.

We also have two asteroids today, 262 Valda and 263 Dresda, both discovered in Vienna by Johann Palisa on November 3rd 1886.  There’s very little of great interest to say about either of them, except to note that Dresda is a member of the Koronian family of asteroids, named after 158 Koronis, all of which travel in a group, and are thought to be the result of a collision between two large bodies several million years ago.

Dresda, as you might already have guessed, was named after the German city of Dresden.  It was so named at the request of a Baron Engelhardt, who owned a private observatory in the city.

But Valda is more mysterious.  It’s a German name, meaning “renowned ruler”, but it’s proving tricky to find any Valda’s who were popular at the time, or related to the discoverer.  It could, of course, have been named after the commune of Valda in northern Italy, but as the population of this minuscule place in the 1880’s would have been well under a thousand, this is unlikely.  The name was the idea of Bettina von Rothschild who, you may recall, had already been immortalized as 250 Bettina by Palisa the previous year.  Unfortunately I’ve checked up on her parents, siblings and children, and can’t find a Valda anywhere (grandchildren don’t need to be checked, as Bettina was only 34 when she died).

Perhaps the Rothschilds took their holidays in northern Italy.  How on Earth do I find that out?

1960     Launch of Explorer 8 by NASA, via a Juno II launcher, into an elliptical orbit. It had a payload of six experiments to study charged particles (and micrometeorites) in the ionosphere, which it did until the battery failed in December 1960.