Houston, we have a feline.
By the early 1960s, the space race was in full swing. The Russians tested space flight with a dog in 1957, the Americans sent a chimp in 1961 and in 1963, the French entered the running with a black-and-white tuxedo cat named Félicette. Ooh la la!
Actually, they were all set to send a male cat named Felix, but the little guy got cold feet and ran away before the mission. So, of course, a female had to step up to finish the job. Scientists from the Centre national d’études spatiales, France’s space agency, found Félicette roaming the streets of Paris, et voilà! She was transformed from an alley cat into the first (and only) feline in space.
On the morning of October 18, 1963, Félicette was strapped into the Véronique AG1 rocket (which sounds way too sexy to be a spaceship) and blasted into the sky for a non-orbital flight that lasted only about 15 minutes. After reaching a peak height of 156 kilometers (roughly 130 miles), the capsule parachuted back down to Earth and our kitty heroine was safely recovered.
Adorable cat + pioneering space travel = blockbuster gold, yes? So why haven’t we heard this story before? Well, unlike the US and Russia, France simply wasn’t a major player in the space race. While Russian dog Laika and American chimp Ham paved the way for human astronauts Yuri Gagarin and John Glenn, respectively, France never followed up their kitty cat space flight with a manned mission. And so, Félicette’s journey was relegated to the litter box of history.
But it’s never too late to give credit where credit is due, especially when it involves a sassy French feline. Maybe we’ll see Grumpy Cat star as Félicette in a yet-to-be-made outer space adventure movie. After all, people love an undercat story.