Tuesday November 14, 2017

Fans of Félicette, the 1st cat in space, want a statue built in her honour

In 1963, Félicette the French feline became the first cat in space.

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

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Matthew Serge Guy is sick and tired of space dogs and space chimps getting all the glory.

That's why he's launched a Kickstarter to fund the creation of a statue to be erected in Paris in honour of Félicette, the first — and possibly only — cat in space.

"The space race [was] very much between the dogs in Russia and the monkeys in America," the London-based creative director and self-described cat lover told As It Happens host Carol Off. "The cat in Europe was kind of forgotten about along the way."

According to Gizmodo, Félicette  — also known as "Astrocat" — was blasted 200 kilometres above Earth on Oct. 21, 1963, in a liquid-fuelled French Véronique AG1 rocket, and returned 13 minutes later. 

Guy first learned about her space-faring adventures from a tea towel in his office kitchen commemorating the 50th anniversary of Félicette's journey.

"It just kind of grabbed my attention," Guy said. "I didn't know a cat went to space and I thought that was fascinating."

space cat towel

Matthew Serge Guy found this tea towel at work honouring Félicette's journey, although the company seems to have chosen a younger cat model for the image. (Submitted by Matthew Serge Guy)

It's not clear whether Félicette was purchased from a pet shop or hauled off the streets of Paris, but she was one of 14 felines put into training for a French space mission.

The story of how Félicette was chosen is muddied, Guy said.

"There's ... conflicting stories of whether she was simply the best cat for the job, like she had the most calm demeanour and was therefore most suitable to be strapped to a rocket," Guy said.

"And there's other stories about how she was simply the cat who put on the least weight, so she could actually fit into the capsule."

"There's another story about apparently a male cat named Felix who was supposed to do the mission but then he ran away the morning of the mission and Félicette stepped in."

space cats

Félicette was one of 14 cats the French had prepared for a space mission. (Matthew Serge Guy/Kickstarter )

Felix, if he exists, may have had the right idea. 

After Félicette came back down to Earth, she was promptly sent to a laboratory in France, where she was euthanized so scientists could study the effects of space travel on her brain.

Guy said the statue would be a memorial not just to Félicette, but for "all the unwilling participants of the space race, because they didn't know what they were doing."

space dog and monkey

Guy says the statue would honour all the unwilling participants of the space race, including Laika, right, the first dog in space, and Miss Baker, one of the first two monkeys in space. ( Sovfot/UIG, Bettmann via Getty Images)

As of Tuesday afternoon, Guy's Kickstarter had reached £29,331 of its £40,000 ($67,000 Cdn) goal.

Guy said he's already lined up wildlife sculpture Gill Parker to create the statue should the funding come through. As It Happens has reached out to Parker for comment.

The final product, Guy said, would likely feature Félicette perched atop a tiny rocket.

"Maybe she's looking at the stars or getting ready to take a leap into the unknown, something like that," he said. 

astrocat statute sketches

These are sketches of what the eventual statue of Félicette, the first cat in space, might look like. (Kickstarter )