The Cat Who Went into Space

Long, long before fictional figure Commander Data traveled on the Enterprise with his cat Spot, France was testing cats for space flight. 

Felix and Félicette were apparently two street cats in the program (10 were de-commissioned for eating too much!), with Felix being the feline chosen to undertake the first mission.  According to one report, Felix escaped the flight - whether by literally escaping or being decommissioned is not known - and was replaced by the female cat
Félicette.  On October 18, 1963, the cat blasted off in a special capsule on top of French Véronique AGI sounding rocket No. 47, from the Colomb Bacar rocket base at the Hammaguir test range in the Algerian Sahara desert.

The cat did not actually go into orbit, but traveled 100-130 miles into space.  Throughout the flight electrodes transmitted neurological impulses back to Earth. After approximately 15 minutes,
the capsule separated and the pod, with cat inside, descended by parachute and was rescued. Pod and cat were safely recovered, and the French Centre d'Enseignement et de Recherches de Medecine Aeronautique (CERMA) affirmed afterwards that the cat had made a valuable contribution to research.

A second flight occurred on October 24, but whether the same cat was
the 'astrocat' is unknown.  There were problems with the recovery, and the unfortunate traveler died.

Cats in simulated spacesuits [NASA archive]

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