Saturday, 10 October 2015

Barking at the moon

Hot on the heels of last week's cat blog, this week's dog blog. Prompted by listening to Mark Grist recite a poem about his happy hound on Blackpool Promenade the other night (as part of National Poetry Day), I thought I'd give a canine spin to this moon theme. I've done a bit of research into the story of the first dog in space and I've crafted today's poem on the back of that.

Blackpool (along with many other towns, I'm sure) has been awash with posters, stickers, buttons and events this week celebrating National Poetry Day - "dream like a poet", "love like a poet", "speak like a poet", "think like a poet" etc; (I didn't spot any that read "starve like a poet").  As T.S. Eliot once remarked in his essay about the Metaphysical Poets, we artists/authors/poets have the pleasant duty to both entertain and educate - and we do it for love. I hope these Dead Good Blogs go some way to living up to that duty. Barking at the moon, then...


Laika (apparently her name means Barking in Russian) achieved a dubious but lasting fame as the first animal to go into earth orbit, when Sputnik 2 blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution in November 1957. President Kruschev was eager to prove to the world that the Soviet Union led the way in the space race. Laika, part husky, part Samoyed terrier, had been picked up as a stray wandering the Moscow streets. (I was there a few times in 2010 and 2011 and packs of stray dogs still roam the city.) The Soviet scientists of the Sputnik programme chose strays because they reasoned such animals had demonstrated great endurance to survive the extreme cold and deprivation of Moscow winters.
 
Laika was one of three rounded-up hounds trained for the Sputnik launch; (the others were Albina and Mushka). To prepare them for their journey into space, the dogs were transferred to progressively smaller cages over a three-week period to get them used to extreme confinement; they were also regularly spun in centrifuge machines and exposed to high volume recordings of jet engines, both of which simulated the acceleration and thunderous noise of a rocket launch. Finally they had to be trained to eat the special high-nutrition gel that would be their food in space. Laika was chosen to be the flight dog as she was the least excitable of the three. Days before the launch, one of the scientists took her home to play with his children: "I wanted to do something nice for Laika. She had so little time left to live."
 
Just prior to lift-off on November 3rd 1957, Laika's fur was sponged with a weak alcohol solution and carefully groomed. She was harnessed and painted with iodine on those areas where sensors were to be attached. She was then wired up, secured in her capsule, a container in which she could stand or sit but couldn't turn round. The technicians kissed her nose and wished her luck before closing and securing the hatch.

Telemetry from Sputnik 2 suggested that Laika's respiratory rate quadrupled during the stress of lift-off and her heart rate increased from 100 to 240 beats per minute. Once in orbit and weightless, after about 3 hours these functions had gradually returned to normal levels. However, the thermal insulation on the spacecraft had malfunctioned shortly after lift-off and the capsule temperature rapidly soared to over 40C, so that the first dog in space expired just six hours into her voyage from overheating. Five months later, in April 1958 after 2,570 orbits of the Earth Sputnik 2, including Laika's remains, disintegrated during re-entry to the atmosphere.


Moon
I've been observing you carefully for quite some while.
You brighten the sky
but don't burn like the sun.
Do you ever see me with your great silver eye?
Do you hear me barking to you
when you rise majestic over this city at night?
Give me a sign.

Life is hard enough here
and though I'll never complain
I have dreams of you, moon.
As I watched the Moscow river
slowly freeze over again
I did think how fine it would be
to scamper on your surface,
kick up moondust with abandon,
leap ten feet into the air
with every joyful stride,
chase my tail for happiness,
running free,
maybe find a moondog for a friend,
bury bones for all eternity.

Could it be
that dreams come true?
Plucked from the streets,
it seems I am the chosen one,
trained now and readied
to rocket to the skies.

I do not howl from fear
as other dogs do.
I am through with barking at the moon.
Instead, I am embarking on a great adventure.

Tense, I wait
in this darkest hour before the dawn,
quivering with anticipation,
tingling to my tail
from a kindly kiss upon the nose.
Stars guide me home.
Beyond your sparkling curtain
is the promise of a better tomorrow.
5-4-3-2-1...

Thanks for reading. Have a good week, S ;-)
Reactions:

1 comments:

Andy Higgins said...

Good blog and poem Steve.

Was having a chat Gagarin, Aldrin, Laika and the moon landings last night.

One thing that surprised me was a claim that the whole Laika thing was a hoax ....