‘Liaka in Pre Flight Mode’ from the series ‘Some European Scientific Endeavors,’ is a reworking of a famous photograph of Liaka, the first living creature to be launched into space and the first animal to orbit the Earth. Liaka, meaning “Barker,” had been a stray on the streets of Moscow and was propelled into the heavens by the Soviet Union in 1957
Liaka travelled more than 900 miles, (nearly 1,500 km) above the Earth – at an orbiting speed of five miles (8km) a second, taking one hour and 42 minutes to circle the Earth. Scientists studied the data sent back in order to observe the effects of solar radiation and weightlessness on living organisms. Liaka died from overheating within hours of the launch, though this was not made public until 2002. A report circulated at the time stated that she died on the sixth day when the oxygen supply on board was scheduled to run out, the Soviet government also claimed she was euthanized prior to oxygen depletion. There is a small monument to Liaka near the military research facility in Moscow that trained her for space travel, the monument is of a dog standing on a rocket.
The Liaka of O’Beirn’s image receives the highest concentration of lines and detail, while the components and structure of the cabin are less defined. This graduated retreat from recognisable shapes such as the dog, to the less specific boundaries of Liaka’s pod, makes the white space around the image seem to leak in, threatening to overpower the strokes of the drawing. The title itself is telling, its use of ‘mode’ to describe an unwitting animal posed for a photograph in the cabin it will certainly die in, perhaps alludes to the clash that can occur between morals and progress in the pursuit of science. O’Beirn’s image captures the approaching oblivion of an animal that as far as we know was incapable of comprehending the space we sent her into. We who could begin to comprehend it, propelled her into all that vacancy and silence. Perhaps from way up there Liaka was able to look back at us.
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