Late last year, artist Matthew Serge Guy launched a Kickstarter to create a memorial to Félicette, the first cat in space. The project clearly caught the mood of cat lovers worldwide, because he raised over £43,000 to make the project happen – the challenge now is to secure a location in France.
Unlike Laika, the first dog in space, celebrated in Nick Abadzis wonderful 2014 graphic novel, practically nobody knows that a cat has been to space. Félicette’s mission lived in the shadow of the more famous Astrodogs and Astrochimps.
In the early days of spaceflight research, scientists all over the world wanted to understand how the lack of gravity in space could affect human astronauts. So animal astronauts led the way, to see if life could survive in space at all. Félicette was the subject of a mission to find out, launched on 18th October 1963, by France, and is the only cat to have survived spaceflight.
There are conflicting stories on whether the French space programme simply found Félicette as a stray on the streets of Paris, or if she was purchased from a cat dealer. Either way, she became one of 14 cats put into training for this spaceflight mission.
Ultimately Félicette was chosen, apparently due to her calm nature. But other reports indicate it may have been because the other 13 cats had put on too much weight!
After her successful flight, reports indicate Félicette returned to the French space programme’s laboratory for two or three months of further study. She was then sadly put to sleep, in order to further analyse the electrodes implanted in her brain.
“It’s a shame Félicette story isn’t more widely known,” says Matthew. “Previously, she was only recognised with a series of commemorative stamps, but these were mis-credited to a male cat named Felix – who actually never existed at all.
“I thought something should be done to right these wrongs,” says Matthew, who describes himself as a “misfit Creative Director”, who works at working at Anomaly London, who’s blended art, copy and code for the likes of Anomaly, R/GA, Saatchi & Saatchi and Mr. President. “And somehow I managed to raise over £43,000 via Kickstarter to build her a statue.”
The smashing rewards surely helped secure backing – some of which are still available (more information below).
The statue itself will be created by Gill Parker, one of the most acclaimed animal sculptors of our time. But right now, Matthew and his team are still trying to get a suitable French location sorted for the artwork.
“This is very much still in progress as we search for a location, he told downthetubes. “All the rewards have now shipped but we’re stuck in a bit of a limbo trying to secure a location. There are a few interesting leads but no solid ground on which to place the statue yet. And we can’t start making the statue until we know where it will go – so it can be designed bespoke for that specific plot.
“It’s just really drawn out because of the committees that decide on these things meet rarely,” he continues. “For instance, one park we’re speaking to’s council meet once every summer to decide on any big projects for the following summer. So we’re still waiting to hear back if that was discussed and any outcomes of it.
“I’m planning on doing a public update on the first anniversary of the Kickstarter showing all the scientific community’s involvement in helping us find a location so far.”
We wish Matthew every success with this – and imagine he might well be celebrating with a glass of totally unrelated Félicette wine when the project is finally in place – a search for which was what led me to his campaign!
• Matthew has some spare items left over if space cat fans are interested. Email him with what you’re after at the specific Kickstarter email – firstname.lastname@example.org