Félicette went to space in 1963 and was forgotten.
This is not Félicette. This is an image via Shutterstock
You may not care about space. You may not care about France. But something you can absolutely definitely get behind is French cats who went to space.
Someone else who feels that way is Matthew Serge Guy from London, who has a Kickstarter page for the construction of a statue in Paris for a cat named Félicette, who was the first cat in space. As Matthew explains on his page: “Other animals in space, such as Laika the dog and Ham the chimpanzee, are well-known within popular culture and have lasting memorials, but very few people are aware that a cat went to space at all.
“Now it's time for The Astrocat to get the memorial she rightly deserves.”
His Kickstarter explains how the French space program—which doesn’t just exist, but is actually the world’s third largest after the US and Russia—used cats to examine how living creatures handled zero gravity conditions.
In 1963, a collection of 14 cats were put into space training. This included spinning them in a giant centrifuge and implanting electrodes in their brains to monitor neurological activity. There is then some debate over whether Félicette finally made the cut because of her docile nature or because the rest of the cats had put on weight, but she was ultimately chosen.
On October 18, 1963, Félicette was strapped into a Véronique AG1 rocket, a direct descendant of the Nazi’s V2 rocket. She was then blown into space from Algeria, surviving 9.5 Gs of force. She spent 15 minutes in orbit, before safely parachuting to Earth in a capsule. She was finally retrieved alive and well and became, for a brief moment, something of a national hero in France.
Three months later, in keeping with the longstanding tradition of any science that involves animals, Félicette was euthanised for the purpose of neurological study.
Today few people know the story of Félicette and her contribution to international aeronautics. On several commemorative stamps her achievements were incorrectly attributed to a non-existent cat named Félix. And all of this is a wrong that Matthew Serge Guy is trying to put right.
Guy's Kickstarter goal is £40,000, or exactly $68,546.84 AUD, with a number of contribution incentives along the way. For example, if you contribute £10 ($17.15) you’ll get a paw-print signed replica of Félicette’s original postcard from 1963, with a thank you written on the back.
Matthew also says that if he somehow raises more than the goal, the statue might well end up larger and fancier than promised. “I’m not saying we should make this statue out of gold,” he writes, “but I’m certainly implying it.”
The statue will be ultimately designed by a UK animal sculptor named Gill Parker, and is expected to be completed at an unknown date because as Matthew explains, “creating a statue is a long process. A really, really long process.”
Anyway, if this is your thing you’ll have until November 17 to contribute. He’s about halfway there, so go on, throw a cat a bone.