Friday December 01, 2017

This is how kids in Whitehorse are honouring the 1st cat in space

Students at Christ the King Elementary School in Whitehorse designed statues in honour of Félicette, the first cat in space, after their teacher learned about the underappreciated kitty on As It Happens. The beret-wearing cat was created by student Jerome. The caped kitty is by Ethan.

Students at Christ the King Elementary School in Whitehorse designed statues in honour of Félicette, the first cat in space, after their teacher learned about the underappreciated kitty on As It Happens. The beret-wearing cat was created by student Jerome. The caped kitty is by Ethan. (Submitted by Emily Macht)

Listen 5:55

Story transcript

When Emily Macht's Grade 5 class heard the story about the first cat in space, they wanted to do something to honour the late kitty's legacy. 

Félicette — also known as "Astrocat" — was blasted 200 kilometres above Earth on Oct. 21, 1963, in a French rocket. She came back down 13 minutes later, and was promptly euthanized so scientists could study the effects of space travel on her brain.

The Whitehorse teacher was listening to As It Happens in her car last week when she heard host Carol Off's interview with Matthew Serge Guy, a London cat lover who is raising funds to build a statue in honour of the underappreciated feline.

Félicette

In 1963, Félicette the French feline became the first cat in space. (Matthew Serge Guy/Kickstarter )

Macht immediately decided to share the story with her Grade 5 class, who had been learning about philosophy and ethics. 

"Kids at this age are really drawn to stories that involve animals, first of all, and this class in particular has a lot of animal lovers and specifically cat lovers, so I knew they would love it," Macht said.

"And kids this age are also really drawn to notions of fairness and unfairness."

Emily Macht

Whithorse teacher Emily Macht has been teaching her Grade 5 students about philosphy and ethics. (Submitted by Emily Macht)

While much ado has been made of the role played by Russian dogs and American monkeys in the 1960s space race, Félicette's story has mostly flown under the radar.

The kids at Christ the King Elementary School didn't think that was fair, so decided to follow Guy's lead and design statues in Félicette's honour.

felicette

Félicette sits next to her rocket in this rendition by a student named Ralph. (Submitted by Emily Macht )

Modelled with clay, one statue shows the French feline posing on a rocket while sporting a dainty beret. 

Another depicts the Astrocat sporting a superhero cape.

A number of them feature plaques to immortalize Félicette's history.

"They have such great ideas," Macht said.

Grade 5 student Samantha explains her Astrocat art0:19

"One of the interesting ideas that one of my students had was that he wanted to depict Félicette holding a rocket up and having people in the rocket, and he said that would represent how Félicette supported humans in our endeavour to go to space," she said.

 "I thought that was a pretty advanced artistic depiction of that big concept for a 10-year-old."

space dog and monkey

Laika, right, was the first dog in space. Miss Baker was the first monkey in space. The first cat in space hasn't received nearly as much attention. ( Sovfot/UIG, Bettmann via Getty Images)

Getting the kids to engage with big ideas around ethics was part of the lesson plan, Macht said.

"The first thing that they actually pointed out in our philosophical discussion was that animals are involved in testing ... [that] they don't get to choose for themselves if they do that or not. So they were starting to question the ethics around that," she said.

"And then we connected it back to the benefits that humans have experienced because of the testing that we have done on animals. And you could kind of see as the conversation went on that some of that didn't really sit that well with them.

"They were very sad. They have a really strong sense of justice and they felt that that was unjust."

Grade 5 student Ave-Maria on why she wants to honour the 1st cat in space0:20

Guy, meanwhile, has reached his Kickstarter goal to fund a proper statue of Félicette in Paris, and he's commissioned a well-known sculpture to design it.

Macht said she reached out to Guy about her class project and he's promised to share the students' designs with his Kickstarter backers.

"For students to see their work reach like outside the walls of the classroom is so exciting and really motivating for them," she said.

Félicette,

A number of the Félicette clay models featured commemorative plaques, including this one by student Jaymi. (Submitted by Emily Macht)