As It Happens

Statue of Félicette, the 1st cat in space, unveiled at International Space University

Félicette, the first cat in space, has finally been honoured with her own statue at the International Space University in France.

Cat lover Matthew Serge Guy launched a Kickstarter to honour the little-known French feline in 2017

Félicette, the first cat in space, has been honoured with a statue at the International Space University in France. (Kickstarter )

Félicette, the first cat in space, has finally been honoured with her own statue at the International Space University in France.

The project was two years in the making for Matthew Serge Guy, a London-based cat lover who raised $74,575.78 on Kickstarter to make it happen. 

The approximately 170-cm tall bronze statue shows the French feline perched atop a globe and gazing toward the stars. It was quietly unveiled at the university near Strasbourg last month.

"I'd just like to thank the over 1,000 backers that came together to fund the project, and willingly put their trust in a somewhat naive person who's never made a statue before," Guy told As It Happens in an email. "I think it turned out pretty well."

The statue was designed by sculpture Gill Parker, and forged by Sculpture Castings in Basingstoke, U.K.

Matthew Serge Guy poses with the statue of Félicette, the first cat in space, which he got made with the help of Kickstarter backers. (Kickstarter )

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. 

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.

While much has been written about the other animals of the space race — including Laika the Soviet dog, and American monkeys Able and Miss Baker — Guy says there's been little fanfare about Félicette.

"The space race [was] very much between the dogs in Russia and the monkeys in America," Guy told As It Happens host Carol Off in November 2017, shortly after he kicked off the crowdfunding campaign. "The cat in Europe was kind of forgotten about along the way."

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

Whitehorse schoolteacher Emily Macht was so inspired when she heard Félicette's story on As It Happens, that she decided to tell her Grade 5 class about it.

"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 told As It Happens in December 2017.

Students 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. (Submitted by Emily Macht)

The students also wanted to honour the unsung space kitty, so they sculpted their own clay models of Félicette.

"Kids this age are also really drawn to notions of fairness and unfairness," Macht said. 

Guy called the kids' sculptures "magnificent creations."

A statue of the first cat in space — Félicette, a.k.a. Astrocat — was unveiled in December at the International Space University in France. (Kickstarter )

On hand for Félicette's unveiling were Lilla Merabet, vice-president of the GrandEst region; astronauts Helen Sharman, Paolo Nespoli and Reinhold Ewald; and Philippe Jung, co-author of the academic paper "Felicette, the only space cat."

If you'd like to see it in person, Guy recommends getting in touch with university officials first.

"It is a working university, and sometimes the hall Félicette is in is used for exams or other such activities, so it's not always accessible," he said in a Kickstarter post announcing the unveiling."But with some notice, I'm sure they could accommodate you."


Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Samantha Lui. 

 

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