Félicette, the First Cat in Space, Finally Gets a Memorial

Last month, a team unveiled a bronze statue honoring the feline, who launched on a suborbital mission in 1963

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Félicette, a former stray who was sent into space by French researchers in 1963, now has a bronze statue in her honor at France’s International Space University. (Public Domain)

Félicette, the only cat to have ever survived a sojourn into space, is now being recognized for her extraterrestrial achievements in the form of a bronze statue at the International Space University in Strasbourg, France.

The spacefaring feline was part of a 15-minute suborbital mission in 1963. Unveiled in December, the memorial is the culmination of a Kickstarter campaign  launched in October 2017 by cosmic cat enthusiast Matthew Serge Guy. More than 1,100 patrons donated $57,000 to honor Félicette.

“It’s time for The Astrocat to get the memorial she rightly deserves,” Guy wrote on the original campaign page.

Félicette, a petite tuxedo kitty, wasn’t the first non-human animal to leave our planet’s atmosphere. In their early bids for an eventual lunar landing, both the United States and the former USSR sent their own menageries of creatures into space, including a dog named Laika in 1957 and a chimpanzee called Ham in 1961. These efforts, using larger and larger creatures, were—though ethically hazy—intended as trial runs for humans, in part to study the effects of microgravity on mammalian bodies.

Before Félicette, France had so far only sent rats to space. After researchers at the Centre d’Enseignement et de Recherches de Médecine Aéronautique (CERMA) recruited 14 cats into a rigorous training program, Félicette—a sweet-tempered former stray—was granted the golden ticket, Emily Petsko reported for Mental Floss in 2018.