Cats in Zero-G

An amusing excerpt I ran across from the essay collection A Step Further Out, by Jerry Pournelle:

And prior to (the) Mercury (program) we hadn’t any real experience at all. We flew transport planes in parabolic courses that might give as much as 30 seconds of almost-zero-g, and that was all we knew. I will not soon forget some of our early low-g experiments. Some genius wanted to know how a cat oriented: visual cues, or a gravity sensor? The obvious way to find out was to take a cat up in an airplane, fly the plane in a parabolic orbit, and observe the cat during the short period of zero-g.

It made sense. Maybe. It didn’t make enough that anyone would authorize a large airplane for the experiment, so a camera was mounted in a small fighter (perhaps a T-bird; I forget), and the cat was carried along in the pilot’s lap. A movie was made of the whole run.

The film, I fear, doesn’t tell us how a cat orients. It shows the pilot frantically trying to tear the cat off his arm, and the cat just as violently resisting. Eventually the cat was broken free and let go in mid-air, where it seemed magically (teleportation? or not really zero gravity in the plane? no one knows) to move, rapidly, straight back to the pilot, claws outstretched. This time there was no tearing it loose at all. The only thing I learned from the film is that cats (or this one anyway) don’t like zero gravity, and think human beings are the obvious point of stability to cling to.

Which leaves me with only one question:

If you wanted to know if it was visual cues, wouldn’t it have been easier to just blindfold the cat? 😉

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