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OpenLearn Live: 3rd November 2015

Updated Tuesday 3rd November 2015

The dog who didn't return from space; then more free learning across the day.

OpenLearn Live brings the world of free learning to life. We'll be updating during the day; you can also follow us on Twitter.

Yesterday, we looked at tampon taxes, elephant research and the Turkish elections

See the complete collection of OpenLearn live


Today's posts


Remembering Jennie Lee

In London, former Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock has unveiled a plaque at the home once shared by Jennie Lee and Nye Bevan. Lee was instrumental in the founding of The Open University, and so we're delighted at this recognition of her contribution to British life.

Read Neil Kinnock unveils London plaque in honour of Nye Bevan and Jennie Lee at the South Wales Argus

Watch Jennie Lee talking about the OU in 1973 at the OU Digital Archive


On iPlayer now: The Secret Life of Books

Catch up with John Cooper Clarke's guide to Confessions of an English Opium Eater, first shown on BBC Four last night.

Watch The Secret Life of Books on iPlayer

More about Confessions of an English Opium eater


The right-to-die debate

Rachel Webb shares a personal perspective on the right-to-die debate, following the recent debate in Parliament:

As the dust precariously settles on the parliamentary vote in September that rejected the “right to die,” I shake my head at the polarised debate that missed a trick. What we need is not the ability to hasten death, but a universal, intelligent and humane system that does not prolong a life of suffering. When Mother Nature says it’s time to go, we should be able to choose whether to acquiesce or rebel, whether to accept the inevitable or fight for one last hurrah. It might be that the legislation is already in place to allow this, but anecdotal evidence suggests it is, in practice, a grey area that serves no one well.

Read: Assisted dying or non-assisted living


Dog week: Laika

This week, we're celebrating the lives of some remarkable dogs. Yesterday, we met the first dog whose name we know - Abuwtiyuw. Today, the focus is shifting to more modern times, and Laika - hero of the space race.

Laika, as depicted on a 2007 Hungarian stamp Copyright free image Icon Copyright free: Hungarian Post Office A Hungarian stamp celebrating Laika

It was November 3rd, 1957 when Laika, a stray found on the streets of Moscow, was blasted into space aboard Sputnik II. The day had been chosen to mark the 40th anniversary of the October Revolution, and Laika's role was as much to burnish the Soviet's reputation in space exploration as the scientific aims of the mission. These, though, were not without significance - prior to Laika's flight, some scientists believed that people (or other mammals) wouldn't be able to survive the forces required to launch them into space; there was also no understanding of what weightlessness might do to a body.

Laika's mission was a one-way one. Advanced though the USSR was at firing things into orbit, they hadn't quite come up with a way of bringing them back to Earth.The original plan had been to euthanise Laika with poisoned dog food after a couple of days monitoring her vital signs, letting her slip away gently. Unfortunately, that didn't happen; it took until 2002 for the Russians to admit that she'd died after the poorly constructed temperature controls of Sputnik II had failed. In effect, she boiled to death high above the Earth.

Her death - even without the grisly details - caused as much outcry as her mission caused scientific fascination; the UK's National Canine Defence League called for a minute's silence; the RSPCA was fielding calls from outraged dog lovers even before her death had been announced. Even some of the normally compliant Warsaw Pact nations demurred, with the Polish magazine Kto, Kiedy, Dlaczego called the decision not retrieve her a "loss to science" - although some Western scientists were quite catty about how much use data from a terrified dog would have been anyway.

Not everyone in the Soviet space programme saw Laika purely as an experiment, so let's end on a slightly sweeter note, from NBC News' coverage of the opening of a monument to Laika:

"Laika was quiet and charming," Dr. Vladimir Yazdovsky wrote in his book chronicling the story of Soviet space medicine. He recalled that before heading to the launch pad, he took the dog home to play with his children. "I wanted to do something nice for her: She had so little time left to live," Yazdovsky said.

See more from OpenLearn on space exploration

Meet more dogs in our Hound Hub

 

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