On October 18, 1963, a small rocket took off from a launchpad in Hammaguir, Algeria. It rose about 100 miles, cutting through the atmosphere, before it hit its upper limit and began plunging back to Earth. A small capsule separated from the rocket and floated down to land in the desert, and a team of French scientists helicoptered over and retrieved its inhabitant: a black and white cat named Félicette.
Fifty-four years later, this fluffy pioneer will finally get her due. Thanks to a successful Kickstarter started by Matthew Serge Guy, preparations have begun for a permanent memorial to the world’s first astro-cat.
Guy, a creative director at a London ad firm, was originally inspired in his pursuit by a chance encounter with a Félicette-themed tea towel, which he found in the kitchen of his shared office space. He had grabbed the cloth to dry a cup, and when he noticed what it said—“TO COMMEMORATE THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE FIRST CAT IN SPACE”—he stopped mid-drip.
“I just stared at it for about a minute,” he says. “I had no idea that a cat went to space.”
He’s not alone. While America’s space monkeys and Russia’s cosmonaut dogs have imprinted on the popular consciousness, Félicette and her journey are shrouded in obscurity, legend, and confusion.
A short documentary preserved by France’s National Audiovisual Institute provides some information about the purpose of her journey. Scientists hoped to measure the impact of space travel on brain activity, and implanted an electrode in her head for this purpose.
It also shows some highlights of feline space school, which involved…
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