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Felicette, spacecat.jpg
Inscription: Thank you for your participation in my success of 18 October 1963[1]
SpeciesFelis catus
Known forThe first cat in space
OwnerFrench government
AppearanceTuxedo cat

Félicette (French pronunciation: ​[fe.liː.sɛt]) was the first cat to have been launched into space.[2] She was launched on 18 October 1963, by France, and is the only cat to have survived spaceflight; a second feline was launched on 24 October, but the mission resulted in a fatality.[3]

Félicette has been commemorated on postage stamps around the world,[4] and in 2017 a funding campaign for a memorial was launched.[5]

Prior non-human animals in space[edit]

On 3 November 1957 the Soviets sent Laika, a dog, into space on Sputnik 2. The dog was a stray found on the streets of Moscow. She died in space, but was the first animal to be launched into space and orbit the Earth. On 31 January 1961, as part of Project Mercury, the chimpanzee Ham became the first hominid launched into space; his mission was a suborbital flight. On 29 November 1961, Enos became the second chimp, and third hominid after cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin and Gherman Titov, to achieve Earth orbit. He orbited the Earth for 1 hour and 28 minutes, surviving the flight and reentry. Félicette would be the first cat launched into space.[6] French scientists chose a cat since they already had a significant amount of data on them.[7]

The French rocket program began in 1961.[8] France's base in the Sahara had previously launched three rats.[9]


French sounding rocket similar to that which carried Félicette

Félicette was a black-and-white stray cat, found on the streets of Paris by a pet dealer, and later was purchased by the French government.[10] In 1963, the French trained 14 cats using some of the same training that humans underwent, such as high-G centrifuges and compression chambers.[11] The animals were trained by the Centre d'Enseignement et de Recherches de Médecine Aéronautique (CERMA).[10] All of the cats had permanent electrodes surgically implanted into their brain to assess neurological activity.[12] Félicette was chosen for the launch since the other trainees were overweight on launch day.[12] The cats were unnamed prior to the launch, potentially so the scientists would not get attached to them.[13]

On 18 October 1963 at 8:09 am, Félicette was launched into space from the Centre interarmées d'essais d'engins spéciaux site in Algeria on a Véronique AGI 47 sounding rocket (made in Vernon, Haute-Normandie).[14] Véronique came from the German World War II Aggregate rocket family and led to the French Diamant satellite launcher. The Veronique AGI was developed for the International Geophysical Year (French: Année géophysique internationale) in 1957 for biological research. Out of the fifteen AGI 47 rockets assembled, 7 would carry live animals.

The mission was a sub-orbital flight, and lasted 13 minutes, reaching a height of 152 kilometers, and included 5 minutes of weightlessness.[15] Félicette was recovered safely after the capsule was ejected from the rocket and it parachuted to Earth;[16][17] she was killed two months later so that scientists could examine her brain.[18] After the successful launch, the "astrocat" was given the name Félicette.[13]

A second feline was launched into space on 24 October. Unlike Félicette, that cat died when the carrying rocket exploded on ascent.[10]


Félicette (sitting on right) with 11 human members (all standing) of the 1963 launch team

According to an article in Space.com on 8 November 2017, the participation of Félicette in the space race:

...was certainly not voluntary, but it was a huge milestone for France, which had just established the world's third civilian space agency (after the U.S. and the Soviet Union). Félicette's mission helped bring France into the space race.[5]

The article also mentions that in the 1960s, scientists wanted to understand how the lack of gravity would affect animals, to understand what would happen to humans, and "these cats went through the same intensive training as human astronauts" Ultimately, Félicette was chosen for the mission over 13 other cats in training partially due to her calm disposition.[5]

In 1997, postage stamps commemorating Félicette and other animals in space were created in Chad.[19] Félicette's legacy was somewhat obscured as a number of commemorative stamps from different countries mistakenly identified her as a male cat named Félix.[5]


While some non-human animals who traveled in space were celebrated as heroes - the chimpanzee Ham was buried at the International Space Hall of Fame, and the Soviet dog Laika launched in 1957 has a bronze at the Star City cosmonaut training facility - there was no memorial for Félicette. To rectify this oversight, in 2017 a crowdfunding campaign was started by Matthew Serge Guy to erect a bronze statue of Félicette to commemorate her contribution to science.[5] Guy said:

I was touched by how, out of all the animal astronauts' stories, Félicette’s story seems to be the one that’s become twisted the most over the years, with some people even thinking she was a male cat named Felix... By proposing a statue, I guess I was hoping to set her story straight in a big way.[5]

Guy also said that if the crowdfunding is successful, the statue is planned to be designed by sculptor Gill Parker, and installed in Félicette's hometown, Paris.[20] A preliminary sketch of the monument depicts a cat on top of a rocket, and will include a plaque featuring the names of the major donors. As of April 2018, over 1,140 backers had pledged a total of £43,323 to the project, exceeding the £40,000 funding goal.[5][21][22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Félicette". cnes-observatoire.net. CNES. Archived from the original on 21 April 2018. Retrieved 21 April 2018. Thank you for your participation in my success of 18 October 1963
  2. ^ "Chatte Félicette". CNES. Retrieved 15 July 2015.
  3. ^ Grey, Tara (2008). "A Brief History of Animals in Space". NASA. Retrieved 29 November 2013.
  4. ^ "The 11 Most Important Cats Of Science". Popular Science. Retrieved 3 November 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Weitering, Hanneke. "First Cat in Space to Receive a Proper Memorial". space.com. Space.com. Archived from the original on 21 April 2018. Retrieved 21 April 2018.
  6. ^ "France to Fire Cat into Space". Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Pittsburgh Press. UPI. September 25, 1963. p. 29 – via Newspapers.com.
  7. ^ "[Hommage] Une Statue en Bronze Pour Félicette, Votre Avis M. Viso?" [[Tribute] A Bronze Statue for Félicette, Your Opinion Mr. Viso?] (in French). CNES. December 14, 2017. Retrieved January 17, 2019.
  8. ^ "France to Fire Cat into Space". Edmonton Journal. Edmonton, Alberta. Reuters. September 30, 1963. p. 37 – via Newspapers.com.
  9. ^ "Space Cat Back Alive". The Sydney Morning Herald. October 20, 1963. p. 5 – via Google News.
  10. ^ a b c Burgess, Colin; Dubbs, Chris (2007). Animals in Space: From Research Rockets to the Space Shuttle. Springer Praxis. pp. 226–228. ISBN 978-0-387-36053-9.
  11. ^ Petsko, Emily (December 26, 2018). "A Brief History of Félicette, the First Cat in Space". Mental Floss. Retrieved January 17, 2019 – via MSN.
  12. ^ a b "Space Cats". The Pittsburgh Press. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. March 8, 1964. p. 26 – via Newspapers.com.
  13. ^ a b Cassely, Jean-Laurent (January 27, 2017). "La France a envoyé le premier chat dans l'espace, et tout le monde l'a oublié" [France has sent the first cat into space, and everyone has forgotten] (in French). Slate. Retrieved January 18, 2019.
  14. ^ Gray, Tara (2 August 2004). "A Brief History of Animals in Space". NASA. Retrieved 6 May 2017.
  16. ^ "France Sends Cat to Space". The Times Record. Troy, New York. Associated Press. October 18, 1963. p. 1 – via Newspapers.com.
  17. ^ "Fugitive from Paris Alleys Survives 100-Mile Rocket Trip". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. St. Louis, Missouri. January 5, 1964. p. 21 – via Newspapers.com.
  18. ^ Baheux, Romain (October 19, 2017). "Et si Félicette, le premier chat dans l'espace, avait bientôt sa statue?" [And if Félicette, the first cat in space, soon had her statue?] (in French). Le Parisien. Retrieved January 18, 2019.
  19. ^ "Felicette the space cat, and the mythical Felix". Purr-n-Fur UK. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  20. ^ Lesage, Nelly (November 17, 2017). "Félicette, la première chatte revenue de l'espace, va avoir une statue à son effigie" [Félicette, the first cat returned from space, will have a statue with her effigy] (in French). Numerama. Retrieved January 18, 2019.
  21. ^ Parkinson, Hannah Jane (23 October 2017). "From Félicette the space cat to Dolly the sheep – which animals should be given a statue?". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 3 November 2017.
  22. ^ Moye, David (20 October 2017). "The First Cat In Space May Finally Get The Recognition She Deserves". Huffington Post. Retrieved 3 November 2017.

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