How Cats (And Other Good Animals) Helped Pave The Way For Human Spaceflight

All cats are amateur physicists. We know this because they insist on constantly knocking things over to make sure gravity still exists. But just because cats are interested in science doesn’t make them great candidates for space travel. Of course, that didn’t stop the Air Force from putting that to the test.

Archival video footage from 1947 shows researchers at the Air Force’s Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, flying kitties and pigeons on a C-131 aircraft, nicknamed the “Vomit Comet,” that simulated weightlessness through a parabolic flight trajectory. The experiment was part of the Aerospace Medical Division Hq 657Oth Aerospace Medical Research Laboratories’ bioastronautics research, so the Air Force probably wanted to see how kitties would fare in space before humans went. The researchers wrote very detailed instructions on how humans could potentially move around in space, based on kitty maneuvers.

Though Americans (regrettably) never sent a cat into actual space, France did, because, of course. On October 24th, 1963, the Centre national d’études sent a tuxedo cat named Fèlicette on a 15-minute-long jaunt in suborbital space. She survived, and was later studied by French scientists at the Education Center of Aviation and Medical Research (CERMA), to see whether or not her brain had been impacted by spaceflight.

Other animals were also blasted toward the final frontier to test early rockets — and regrettably, some didn’t survive the trip. On November 3rd, 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik 2, which carried a dog named Laika on board. Though Laika became the first living creature in orbital space, engineers couldn’t think of a re-entry plan for Sputnik 2 in time for launch so she never made it back to Earth. In 1948, NASA launched a rhesus monkey named Albert 39 mi (63 km) up on a V2 rocket, but unfortunately, he suffocated and died.

Many other animals have been sent into space since these early days for research purposes. But it seems like no missions for cats in space have been pulled off since Fèlicette. The next time we’ll see likely kitties in space is when Elon Musk finally launches that Martian cat colony I’ve been begging him for.