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A Look Back at When the French Space Program Sent a Cat Into Space

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The Story of the First and Last Cat in Space
At the Space Research Laboratories in Paris, French cats are kept in boxes in order to train them in remaining still for long periods during rocket flights (Keystone/Getty Images)

 

During the Cold War, government funds poured into research and development for groundbreaking innovations like rockets and other weapons systems. Thinking outside of the box, the French used cats for something even more surprising than the bat bomb: rocket test subject.

Sure, you’re familiar with the U.S.-Soviet “space race”—and have maybe even dabbled in Lebanon’s short-lived space program. But you rarely hear about France’s version of NASA or the fact that it sent the first cat into orbit. According to our NASA, on October 18, 1963, French scientists strapped a kitten named Félicette into a Veronique AGI sounding rocket No. 47 and shot her into outer space. Unbelievably, she survived and—get this—parachuted back to Earth and was recovered safely. Unfortunately, a second attempt with another cat failed, with the animal ending up lost in space (we didn’t make that up either).

We’re not entirely sure why Félicette was sent to space, but like something stripped from a sci-fi novel, the scientists embedded electrodes in her brain to research her in-flight impulses back on Earth.

If you were picturing something like the Mir Space Station for this mission, it wasn’t even close to that complex; per Gizmodo, the entire feline mission lasted just 15 minutes. Who knows? Maybe it put the French ahead of the curve on cat-scratch fever research. We’ll likely never know.

Watch a video below, detailing France’s cat space program. The clip is in French, but English subtitles can be turned on by clicking the “CC” button in the lower right corner of the video player.

 

—RealClearLife Staff