Cats in Space. It may sound like it could have been a skit on the original Muppet Show, but along with dogs, chimps, monkeys and a variety of other species cats were part of early space programs. The contributions of our feline friends, along with other animals who made the ultimate sacrifice, have often gone unnoticed as they became unwilling victims to the advancement of space exploration and human curiosity.
The U.S while never actually sending cats into space did subject them to a ride on the “Vomit Comet”. Weightlessness, cats and pigeons.
Animals were used in early space programs to gain understanding of biological processes and the effects of space flight and gravity so that human injuries and loss could be reduced. Many countries used animals in early space programs including the U.S. Russia, China and Japan, but France included cats. Among the cats that the French used, who were subjected to a battery of tests including compression chambers, centrifuges and rocket-propelled sleds, a male named Felix and female named Félicette were chosen to be part of the first mission in 1963. Felix however had other plans and went missing just before the mission. Smart Cat.
Félicette, who was found on the streets of Paris, stepped in to replace Felix as the first cat in space and, on On October 18, 1963 she was launched on the Véronique AG1 rocket from Algerian Sahara desert rocket base. After a 15 minute flight reaching an altitude of 130 miles Félicette made it back safely to Earth – alive. She had electrodes implanted in her brain so that they could measure brain activity and to register any changes that may have happened during the flight. Although Félicette did not actually orbit the Earth she came back a hero and was celebrated for her “valuable contribution to research” however, her celebrity did not last long. Not much is documented about her fate but it was noted in one blog that she was put to sleep not long after so that the electrodes could be studied. The not so glamorous side to the story and the reality of what happens to the majority of cats used in research.
Félicette wasn’t the last cat to go to space, and on October 24 France launched another cat who did not make it back alive. There were problems with the recovery and the delay cost the unknown ‘astrocat’ his or her life.
The story of Félicette and the other cats used in the French space program appear to have quietly slipped away into history, but it’s an important story to be told and one that should not be forgotten.
What does the future hold for cats in space? At the time there doesn’t seem to be any plans for these experiments to be repeated, however recently the Iranian Space Agency announced plans to send a Persian Cat into space. The announcement met with backlash and rightfully so, but whether or not the unlucky feline will make it to orbit is unclear.
Here’s hoping we keep cats, and all other animals, grounded and the only time we see our feline friends visit space is in a video like this.