The First Cat to go to Space Finally Gets a Memorial

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

In 1963, Félicette participated in a 15-minute suborbital mission. She was the first and only cat to survive a trip to and from space, and now she finally has a memorial installed at the International Space University in Strasbourg, France.

In October, 2017, Félicette-fan Matthew Serge Guy started a Kickstarter campaign to fund the memorial. He was able to raise $57,000 from more than 1,100 people.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

“It’s time for The Astrocat to get the memorial she rightly deserves,” Guy posted.

Félicette, a tuxedo, was among the first animals launched into space. Both the United States and the former USSR tested their rocketry programs by sending non-humans to the last frontier. Laika the dog went up in 1957, and Ham the chimpanzee had a turn in 1961. Although perhaps not the most ethical by today’s standards, the animal space sojourns did allow scientists to see the effects of microgravity on the body without risking human lives on untested technology.

France’s Félicette followed in the country’s space rats’ footsteps. After sending several of the rodents to the stars, researchers at the Centre d’Enseignement et de Recherches de Médecine Aéronautique (CERMA) worked with 14 cats for the mission. Only Félicette, a mild-mannered stray, made the ultimate trip.

Called C341, she finally got launched from France’s Sahara Desert base. The 15-minute trip took her 100 miles above the Earth, with scientists monitoring her vitals the whole time. Her capsule separated from the rocket and parachuted safely back to the ground.

Unfortunately, so that her brain could be examined, she was euthanized a few months later.

Then, she was forgotten about.

That is, until Guy started his Kickstarter and an article about her appeared on Space.com. While Ham and Laika had both been memoralized, Félicette only got a series of stamps that mislabeled her as a male named Felix.

That may be less to do with anti-cat bias and more to do with the fact the space race was primarily between the USA and the USSR. France’s history was so secondary, poor Félicette simply didn’t neatly fit inside the same story of Ham and Laika.

But thanks to Guy’s tireless efforts, Félicette is now commemorated with a beautiful five-foot tall bronze statue designed by artist Gill Parker. She will forever stand facing the heavens she once braved.