It was today in 1963 that a cat became an astronaut.
The cat didn’t choose to go, of course, but she was a space pioneer all the same.
The early days of the space race turned several animals into celebrities.
The Soviet Union sent Laika the dog up there in 1957, though that didn’t end well for her.
And the U.S. launched Ham the chimpanzee in 1961.
France was looking to get its space program off the ground, and after sending several rats up they decided to launch a cat (not to catch the rats, they weren’t up there at that point).
They rounded up 14 felines, one of which was a black and white kitty from the streets of Paris officially known as C 341.
Later she would be nicknamed Felix (she had the same colors as the famous cartoon cat of that name) and then was renamed Félicette on account of being a lady cat.
The cat passed all the astronaut testing and had the calmest demeanor, so they put her in a special cat carrier and set that inside a rocket.
The rocket launched from Algeria and flew about 100 miles above the earth, a suborbital flight that lasted about 15 minutes.
Félicette had become the first cat in space.
But when she came back to earth, she didn’t get the notoriety the other animals received.
Maybe it was because by that point humans had gone into space ourselves, or maybe because the space program put Félicette down two months after her flight to study her brain.
Finally, in 2017 a crowdfunding campaign led by Matthew Serge Guy raised tens of thousands of dollars to put up a statue of this underappreciated space traveler.
And as of early 2020, visitors to the International Space University in Strasbourg, France can visit that statue.
It shows a bronze version of Félicette standing on top of the world, perhaps distracted by an interstellar butterfly or simply just refusing to do what humans tell her.
Space cats are still cats, after all.
Today in 1922, Bernice Witt of Fulton, Illinois made it to school after being run over by a train!
As the New York Tribune reported, she fell on the tracks and a train engine and five cars passed over her.
“She did not cry,” they wrote, “but hurried away to school.”
Félicette, the First Feline in Space, Finally Got Her Due (How Stuff Works)
Et si Félicette, le premier chat dans l’espace, avait bientôt sa statue ? (Le Parisien)
Today in 1922: a six year old in Illinois made it to school after being run over by a train (!!!!!!!) (New York Tribune via Twitter)
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