On November 3, 1957, a former street dog named Laika was launched in Sputnik 2, on a one-way trip into space. Contrary to reports at the time that she was euthanized prior to her oxygen running out, it is now believed she died within hours of launch due to overheating. Because of her, scientists were able to prove that living passengers could survive being launched into orbit, and gained considerable information about the effect of spaceflight on a living creature. There was never any plan to return her to Earth.
“Muttnik”, written and performed by Bruce Ryan Costella, is a fictionalized account of that first dog: early puppyhood, abandonment, a life on the streets, being captured and brought to the lab and the arduous selection process that ended in a capsule high above the Earth. Mr. Costella takes us into the dog’s mind, its feelings, its hopes and fears: an unwitting explorer who only ever just wanted to be a Good Dog.
Of course, Mr. Costella is aware of the silliness of the conceit, and indeed makes use of it to win the audience over before coming at them with the emotional one-two punch of the dog’s awakening into the situation it’s in. It is in fact very affecting, and one does not have to be a dog lover to be profoundly moved.