The experiment to determine whether an astronaut could fall like a cat

Illustration for article titled The experiment to determine whether an astronaut could fall like a cat

How did astronauts learn to walk in space? In part, they learned from the animal kingdom's master of the freefall: the common house cat.

In the 1960s, Stanford University professor Thomas R. Kane spent two years studying the mechanics of feline falls. His equations were able to predict the overturning of cats as they bent at the waist and moved themselves to side, and eventually down to achieve the four-point landing that lets cats land on their feet. Believing Kane's research could prove valuable to spacewalking astronauts, NASA awarded Kane a $60,000 grant to develop weightless cat-like maneuvers. Kane would film a cat bouncing on a trampoline, study its movements, and then a gymnast in a spacesuit would try to reproduce the cat's movements on the trampoline. Kane was able to develop several maneuvers that allowed his bouncing faux astronaut to twist his body by moving his arms and hips. You can see comparisons of cat and astronaut falls below.

Kane and his cat-astronaut experiments appeared in Life magazine in 1968.

Life Magazine, Aug. 16, 1968 [via Retronaut via It's Okay to Be Smart]

Illustration for article titled The experiment to determine whether an astronaut could fall like a cat

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DISCUSSION

vp9000
Dr.Nemmo and his time-travelling submarine

I wonder how many cat scratches one gets by throwing a cat at a trampoline. My guess is:

S = ( T * W * A ^ c ) / M

Where

S = number of scratches

W = wildness of the cat in a 0 to 100 rank

A = amplitude of the swing before you throw the cat

T = total time you held the cat.

c is a constant, probably the speed of light (because it has to be there for some reason) and M is the speed in miles per hour that you can run (away from the cat).