Unknown Aspect Of The Space conquest: Animals, Our Brothers Of Space , On the occasion of the commemoration of the sixty years of sending the first living being placed in orbit, the Russian dog Laika, back on an unknown aspect of the space conquest.
Since the Montgolfier brothers organized in 1783 the first flight of a hot air balloon with a duck, a rooster and a sheep in the basket, the animals are the true pioneers of the space conquest. With their defending body … The first critters sent into space did not arouse the self-pity of animal defenders. It was fruit flies shipped manu militari aboard a V2 rocket at 100 km altitude by the United States on February 20, 1947. The flies returned in full form.
Unfortunately, the young rhesus monkey Albert II, the first primate to cross the stratosphere in 1949 in the United States was not so lucky. The parachute did not work and the capsule crashed to the ground. Since those heroic years, dozens of feathered and furry astronauts have been propelled into the cosmos. Nobody has forgotten Laïka (photo opposite, DR ), the little dog who, four years before Yuri Gagarin, became the first living being placed in orbit. She died early in the journey contrary to the golden legend of Soviet propaganda.
But who remembers Marfusa, the first rabbit in space, sent in 1959 by the USSR? What plaque commemorates the tragedy that occurred the same year, the deadliest of the space conquest when two frogs and twelve Russian mice died in the explosion of their rocket a few seconds after takeoff? What happened to the anonymous steppe tortoise who carapata to infinity aboard a Soviet rocket in 1968? And what about Arabella and Anita, these two American spiders sent to weave their web in weightlessness in 1972? What was the fate of these little mockstars, first fish to swim in the space vacuum? Scorpions, sea urchins, newts, ants, stick insects, beetles, jellyfish, cockroaches and even flying bats … All have helped to open the way to space for humans …
CNES archives do not count the number of scratches received by experimenters
But we note a missing mark in this bestiary orbital: the cat. No space power has therefore thought of enlisting the felis silvestris catus? Si: France, anxious under the Gaullist presidency to stand out from the United States and the USSR. After dispatching three rats, Hector, Castor and Pollux, the CERMA (Center for Studies and Research in Aerospace Medicine) estimated that the improvements made to the Veronique rocket made it possible to carry a passenger more substantial than rodents. Fourteen gutter cats were therefore selected for a rather heavy battery of tests.
But this new manifestation of the French genius encountered a major drawback: the particular character of domestic felines, reluctant to any form of activity they did not choose themselves. Recruit training consisted of compression chamber passages, centrifuge towers to determine their resistance to high acceleration, and extended stays in sound boxes where they were subjected to the terrifying crash of take-off. The CNES archives do not count the number of scratches received by the experimenters.
However, cats have put another very effective defense mode to their tormentors: bulimia. Ten candidates were recalibrated for excessive weight gain. In the end, only a square of mats successfully crossed this obstacle course, including Félix and Félicette.
But, aware that the time had come to play everything for the whole, Felix seems he took the time to escape shortly before the big departure. It is finally the black and white cat Félicette, who, after a surgical implantation of electrodes, became the first and only “chastronaute”.
The Véronique rocket, launched from the Hammaguir base in the Algerian Sahara, reached the altitude of 156,000 meters during a flight of 13 minutes. The capsule landed safely and Félicette was recovered, shaken by accelerations of 9g, but alive. Unlike the cat whose story has unfortunately not retained the name, who participated in a second mission six days later. The rocket exploded in full flight and his passenger did not survive.
Since then, no other nation has sent cats into space. Yet the feat of Félicette remains unknown despite the three stamps published by Niger, Chad and Comoros. Alas, the three have the same mistake: it is Félix, the fugitive, who is celebrated while the image represents Félicette!