During the 20th-century numerous countries competed in what is known as the Space Race. Determined to be the first to enter space safely, they used various types of research, including the use of launching animals into space. While many animals gave their lives for this purpose one of the most notable is Félicette, a French cat.
Why Did They Want to Launch a Cat Into Space?
The French space program wanted to join in on the growing Space Race and decided to launch a cat into space to test how gravity worked. At first, the scientists used rats for their experiments but thought that they needed to use a larger mammal for better results. After consulting with each other they decided that a cat would be ideal for their mission. The scientists believed that if a cat could undergo intense training and survive a trip to space their astronauts could as well.
A French cat named Félicette became the first and only cat to ever travel to space
Who is Félicette?
Félicette was a tuxedo cat who was inducted into the French space program in 1963. She was bought from a local pet dealer and later taken to a training facility where she underwent tests for her future space mission. Unlike many other animals launched into space, Félicette didn’t receive an official name until after her assignment as a way to help prevent the scientists from becoming attached to her. Instead, she was given a code number for identification – C341.
How was Félicette Chosen?
The French space program first used a cat named Felix for their mission, but he escaped from the laboratory and was unable to be found. Because of this, a new cat needed to be used for the program.
Félicette was chosen mainly by chance as she and her littermates were bought by the French scientists. However, the cats had to undergo numerous tests to ensure they were up to the challenge. After going through intense training, the researchers chose Félicette to be launched into space thanks to her small size and calm personality.
What Kind of Training Did Félicette Go Through Before Being Launched Into Space?
Félicette went through extensive training before she was launched into space. Before Félicette started her important training numerous electrodes were surgically implanted into her brain to help scientists track her neurological activity. Other tests Félicette had to go through included being kept in a small container for a long amount of time and being taught not to tug against the restraint cloth wrapped around her.
When Was Félicette Launched Into Space?
After completing her training, Félicette was sent into space on October 18, 1963 at a French space mission site in Algeria. She spent about 13 minutes on a sub-orbital flight before returning to Earth. As she floated above the planet, the scientists monitored the electrodes in her brain to see how they reacted to various elements during the trip.
How Did She Return to Earth?
To return to Earth the rocket Félicette was in split apart where she then spent five minutes floating in space. Her parachute then deployed and she fell back to Earth into the Sahara Desert where she was picked up by researchers. After this successful mission, Félicette became one of the only cats to visit space and survive the journey back.
How Did Félicette Die?
Félicette survived her flight, but her life ended at a research facility where scientists euthanized her so they could study her brain to see how her travels affected it.
After her death, she was forgotten for a bit, but in the 1990s commemorative stamps were made to honor her. However, these stamps incorrectly identified her as Felix, the cat who escaped.
Decades after her death and remarkable accomplishment for mankind, Félicette finally received the recognition she deserved. In 2017, over $57,000 was raised with the help of a crowdfunding campaign to create a bronze sculpture of Félicette. The statue depicts Félicette sitting on top of the Earth and looking up into the heavens. It is installed in Strasbourg, France at the International Space University.
Félicette was an exceptional cat who helped humans achieve many remarkable space feats. While her life was a somewhat short and tragic one, Félicette’s legacy continues to inspire many and has finally gained the recognition she deserves.
What Other Animals Have Been in Space?
Plenty of animals have visited space for research purposes, like dogs, mice, frogs, fish, and monkeys. Many of these animals added their own impact to the Space Race and helped scientists to discover many unique things about space that would have otherwise been unknown.
Launched into space by the Soviet Union, Laika the dog was one of the first animals to orbit the Earth. While she sadly didn’t survive the mission, she helped scientists to better understand how the human body reacts when it enters space.
Ham, a chimpanzee, was sent to space by the United States. He was trained to do tasks during his mission, including pulling levers and pressing certain buttons. This helped researchers to see how the controls would function in space and if the commands would still work from such a far distance away. Ham survived his space flight and was later sent to live at the North Carolina Zoological Park.
A small squirrel monkey, Gordo was one of the first apes in space and helped U.S. researchers to discover how weightlessness worked and if the body could survive re-entry into the atmosphere.
Able and Baker
These two monkeys were shipped to space in what was an experiment to see how space travel affected one’s health. Able and Baker were dressed with helmets and jackets to help make their journey more comfortable. During the trip scientists were able to monitor things such as their pulse, respiratory rate, and body temperature. Both monkeys survived but Able passed away during a later operation.