FEATURE: The First Cat In Space
The First Cat In Space May Finally Get The Recognition She Deserves
Everyone knows the names of famous astronauts like Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and some may even remember Laika, the first dog in space.
However, the first cat in space has been largely forgotten by history.
This pioneering pussycat was named ”Félicette,” and she was shot into space 54 years ago this week from a base in the Sahara desert by the Centre National d’études Spatiales (CNES), the French version of NASA.
Félicette was picked out of a group of about a dozen cats because she had the best reaction to a series of tests that included a spin in a centrifuge, according to EuroNews.
Her 12-minute flight took her 97 miles above Earth and included five minutes of weightlessness.
Although this “Astrocat” made history, Félicette was euthanized a few months later so scientists could study the effects of space travel on her body.
No cat has been in space since and Félicette has become a UFO — an underappreciated feline orbiter.
Even worse, in some of the few tributes she received, she’s been misidentified as a male named Felix, according to LeDauphine.com
Now a British advertising executive is hoping to restore Félicette to the pantheon of great space explorers by erecting a statue in her honor in Paris, France.
Matthew Serge Guy, a creative director for Anomaly London, has started a Kickstarter campaign to raise $52,439 for the statue.
“Around 6 months ago whilst at work, I came across a tea towel in the staff kitchen commemorating the 50th anniversary of the cat who went to space,” Guy said in a release. “There was no name for the cat on the towel, nor did it resemble Félicette.
“After Googling it, I became fascinated with Félicette’s story, how it had been forgotten over the years, and (like the design of the tea towel) misattributed. It felt like something big should be done to right these wrongs.”
The campaign video is below and seems to have catapulted Félicette back into the public eye. After one day, Guy is nearly 20 percent towards his goal with a month to go.
Guy emphasizes to recognize that Félicette and other animals involved in the early days of space exploration suffered and had no choice in the matter.
“It’s also important to note that Félicette, alongside many other animals that have braved space travel in the name of science, was ultimately an unwilling participant in this experiment,” he wrote. “For this mission alone she, alongside 13 other cats, experienced arduous training prior to the mission and eventually gave her life.”
In Huffington Post
First Cat in Space to Receive a Proper Memorial
When it comes to animals that heroically blasted off into space during the space race, names like Laika the dog or Ham the chimpanzee are probably the first that come to mind. But one spacefaring feline who helped to pave the way for humans to go to space has gone largely unrecognized, and a new Kickstarter campaign aims to change that.
On Oct. 18, 1963, a French cat named Félicette became the first and only feline to ever travel to space. She launched atop a Véronique AG1 rocket and flew nearly 100 miles (157 kilometers) above the Earth, where she briefly experienced weightlessness. Her rocket soared up to six times the speed of sound and exposed her to 9.5 g’s of force. Fifteen minutes later, she safely returned to Earth by parachuting down in her little space capsule — alive and well.
And just like that, an unsuspecting tuxedo kitty plucked from the streets of Paris became a space cat celebrity. Unfortunately for Félicette, her legacy has long been overshadowed by the many dogs, monkeys and chimps that flew to space in the 1960s. “Over the last 54 years, the story of the first and only cat to go to space has been largely forgotten. She deserves a proper memorial,” the Kickstarter page reads.
Now you can help immortalize this incredible cat by contributing to a fund for a shiny, bronze statue of Félicette to be erected in her hometown of Paris, France.
Fruit flies launched in 1947 became the first animals to reach outer space and be recovered alive.
Depending on how much you’re willing to donate, rewards include “autographed” postcards (featuring Félicette’s actual pawprint), enamel pin badges, tote bags and printed photographs of Félicette. The most generous donors will have their names included on a plaque by the statue and will be given a small replica of the statue.
“The first chimp in space is buried at the International Space Hall of Fame. The first dog in space is immortalized in bronze. The first cat has nothing,” an unnamed narrator says in the Kickstarter campaign’s video. Félicette may have made headlines that can forever be located in old newspaper archives, but so far, there is no permanent memorial for this cosmic cat.
Félicette was one of 14 cats selected by the French space program to undergo spaceflight training. Her participation in the space race was certainly not voluntary, but it was a huge milestone for France, which had just established the world’s third civilian space agency (after the U.S. and the Soviet Union). Félicette’s mission helped bring France into the space race.
“Back then, scientists around the world wanted to understand how the lack of gravity could affect animals — the idea being, if they can survive in space, then so can humans. In fact, these cats went through the same intensive training as human astronauts,” the video states.
That training involved the same kind of centrifuge that human astronauts sit in during their preflight training. The cats also had electrodes implanted into their brains so scientists could monitor their neurological activity.
“Ultimately, it was Félicette who was chosen for the mission, due to her calm disposition,” the video states, “though some reports say it was because all the other cats had put on too much weight.”
Other reports insinuate that Félicette was actually a backup cat for another cat named Félix, who escaped on the day of his flight. However, others have offered a different explanation for Félix the cat.
According to the video, the memory of Félicette has been “further obscured, as a series of commemorative stamps all assumed she was a male cat named Félix. Seems the common misconception that only men are leading the fields of science and engineering applies to cats, too. It’s Félicette’s contributions to spaceflight research that will one day allow us to take our cats to the Martian colonies and beyond. For that, she deserves her rightful recognition.”
To contribute to Félicette’s memorial, visit the Kickstarter page by Nov. 17, 2017. You can donate as little as 1 euro (about $1.33), but to get any space cat swag, you’ll need to donate at least 10 euros (about $13).
The Secret History of the First Cat in Space
On October 18th, 1963, the Centre national d’études in France was set to send a small cat named Félix into space. After lagging behind its Soviet and American competitors, France was eager to stake its claim in the space race—with cats, for some reason. But on launch day, the mischievous little beast went missing—and an accidental heroine stepped in to take his place. Her name was Félicette.
From the streets of Paris, this tuxedo kitty—nicknamed “Astrocat”—would reach heights never achieved by feline kind. On October 24th, 1963, Félicette jetted 130 miles above Earth on a liquid-fueled French Véronique AG1 rocket, soaring high above the Algerian Sahara Desert. She returned just fifteen minutes later, already a decorated heroine for her nation.
After her landing, French scientists at the Education Center of Aviation and Medical Research (CERMA) studied Félicette’s brain waves to see if she had changed at all since her voyage. While not much is known about their findings—or about Félicette’s eventual fate—the CERMA said she had made “a valuable contribution to research.”
Unfortunately, Félicette’s story has been lost in the sands of time; A victim of our puptriarchal society that favors the achievements of dogs above all others. But France’s place in the overall space race—or lack thereof—could explain her erasure.
“I think it may be a matter of how history played out,” space historian and editor of the space history site collectSPACE Robert Pearlman told Gizmodo. “The effort that led to launching humans into space—and then ultimately, to the moon—was the space race between the United States and the Russians.”
The pioneering efforts of brave pups, monkeys and other animals paved the way for humans in the US-Russia space race to the moon. Scientists used animals as test subjects to see how a lack of gravity would impact them, and in effect, humans. If animals could survive the harsh conditions of space, so could we. At least that was the idea.
“Laika the [Soviet] dog led directly to Yuri Gagarin becoming the first human in space, which led to Alexey Leonov becoming human to spacewalk,” Pearlman said. “Monkeys Able and Miss Baker led to the first American flights that took heroes like John Glenn and Alan Shepard into space.”
While France does have its own formidable space program, Pearlman said the French ultimately did not pursue sending humans into space on their nation’s own rockets. That could explain Félicette’s relative mysteriousness.
“[France] is a partner through the European Space Agency and directly connected to NASA and the ISS, but French astronauts have typically launched on Russian or American rockets,” he said. “So Félicette doesn’t have a path to that larger history, [unlike American or Soviet animals].”
Though some animals, like mice, are still sent into space, society has largely shifted away from testing the effects of spaceflight on domesticated animals. The next time we’ll see cats in space is likely when humans are living in space.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever see cats or dogs fly again, at least in the short term,” Pearlman said. “We’ve moved beyond having to test on animals, to learn about how the human body would react in space—we’ve sent humans out into space and we’ve sent them up there for longer than a year. Their role in that sense has passed.”
“Until the point that we see families sent into space for tourist or transportation activities, I think at that point we might look at how to transport our pets,” Pearlman said.
Though Pearlman doesn’t have cats or dogs—though he did admit to being “more of a cat person”—he says Félicette “has a special place in his history book.”
By keeping her story alive, we pay our rightful respects to the brave stray cat who reached heights most of us never will. Besides, we want to be on good terms with cats when they inevitably take over Elon Musk’s martian colony.
“A Martian cat,” Pearlman pondered. “That would be interesting.”
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