Source: The Guardian (Extract)
Posted: September 9, 2023

In a few weeks, space scientists will celebrate a remarkable event – the 60th anniversary of the launch of the first cat into space, an astronautical feat that has never been repeated.

A small black-and-white Parisian stray, Félicette, flew on a French rocket on a sub-orbital mission in October 1963 that reached an altitude of 154km, taking her to a place where no feline had gone before – or since.

In the early 60s, dogs and monkeys were the animals usually used by scientists to find out exactly how dangerous conditions were in outer space and to assess if humans could survive trips beyond the edge of Earth’s atmosphere. Russia preferred dogs, the US generally chose monkeys.

But France decided to be different. A total of 14 stray cats were gathered by staff at France’s space agency Cerma – Centre d’Enseignement et de Recherches de Médecine Aéronautique – for selection as feline astronauts, though the cats were deliberately not given names in order to prevent scientists from becoming too fond of them. The cat selected to travel to space was simply known as C341.

Then, after news was announced of its flight on a Veronique rocket on 18 October 1963 and subsequent safe return to Earth, the French press decided this feline trailblazer had to have a name. They picked Felix after the cartoon cat character, only to discover that C341 was female. Her name was adjusted to Félicette, as a result.

In putting Félicette in one of its rockets, France added a new species to the list of creatures that scientists had already hurled into space, a roll-call that has since been swelled over subsequent decades by the addition of some very unlikely animal astronauts.

Félicette is still remembered. A statue of her, sitting on a globe gazing upwards, was erected at the International Space University at Strasbourg in 2019.