An interview with Taters, the cat who starred in the video streamed from space

Taters, the Laser Beam Motion Analyst at NASA, has become an overnight sensation. This 3-year-old orange tabby cat gained fame when NASA used a laser to transmit a video of him from the Psyche spacecraft to Earth, covering a distance of 19 million miles. The successful test aimed to transmit high-bandwidth data from deep space, and Taters played a crucial role in it. Here is an edited transcript of an interview with Joby Harris, a visual strategist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Taters’ proud human companion.

Q. How did you decide to use Taters for the communications experiment?
Harris: We researched the history of communication, including television and film. We found that even the first images tested on television featured a statue of Felix the Cat. In today’s internet-dominated world, cat videos and memes are extremely popular. So, we kept coming back to the videos I had filmed of Taters chasing a laser. It aligned with the early transmission history, and we decided to go with it. We considered using stock videos, but Taters’ charm and innocence stood out among them.

Q. Were there other cats in consideration for the video?
Harris: We looked into stock footage of cats jumping and diving, which were beautifully filmed. However, they didn’t have the generic NASA “test” feel we were aiming for. We wanted it to seem like Taters had been filmed at NASA specifically for this purpose. That’s why we ultimately chose Taters and his raw charm.

Q. How did you and Taters meet?
Harris: It was during the COVID lockdown when everyone was working from home. I wanted to adopt a kitten, and while holding one, Taters climbed onto my shoulder. I learned that he and his sister Dottie were always playing together. So, I decided to adopt both of them, and I’m glad I did. They are best friends and keep each other company. They were given Shakespearean names initially, but I changed Taters’ name to something more fitting.

Q. How did you come up with the name ‘Taters’?
Harris: I always wanted to name a cat Potato. When I got Taters as a kitten, he looked like a potato. A friend suggested the name “Taters,” and it just clicked.

Q. How did you film Taters chasing the laser?
Harris: Initially, the tests involved Taters chasing lasers randomly. However, we realized we needed better footage with a suitable background. I set up cameras, lighting, and even a smooth backdrop at home. But when I tried to get Taters to chase the laser, he just laid there, refusing to cooperate. Frustrated, I kicked him out of the room and started considering using stock footage. However, as I walked into the living room, Taters was sitting on the couch, looking at me as if asking why I was mad. I decided to film him there, using my phone. That footage turned out to be the one we used in the video. Taters had to be filmed on his own terms, and it worked perfectly.

Q. The video mentions that Taters is on life five out of nine. Can you explain that?
Harris: I’m not entirely sure about that data. It could be that he missed the counter a few times while jumping or playing with his sister. Maybe he ate something he shouldn’t have. I don’t know where those five lives went, but he needs to take care of the remaining four. He’s only three years old, after all.

Q. Will Taters be making more video appearances?
Harris: I don’t think so. The video was a test that successfully traveled 19 million miles. Taters will likely focus on sharing his knowledge about space, particularly light movement and lasers. He has an Instagram account where he occasionally posts test footage, auditions, and other content. People have fallen in love with him, and there have even been artworks created featuring him.

Q. What are some of Taters’ favorite treats?
Harris: Surprisingly, he dislikes salmon but loves eating flies. He’s not interested in conventional cat treats, but he enjoys bread. He has unique tastes, but he definitely prefers crispy and dry treats.

Q. Where does Taters like to sleep?
Harris: Taters has claimed a favorite chair in my room. It was originally meant for me to read and relax, but he found it to be the perfect fit for his back. So, I’ve given it to him, and it has become his cozy sleeping spot.

Q. What are some of Taters’ favorite activities?
Harris: Taters loves chasing little plastic springs and often takes them into the bathtub, turning it into his play arena. He also enjoys playing with his sister, Dottie. There’s a plastic plant that he loves rubbing his face against.

Q. Is the circle cam in NASA’s video also Taters?
Harris: No, the circle cam is from a separate test where we had multiple camera angles of Taters staring at a laser. It was quite amusing to see him from different perspectives, and we included that footage as an Easter egg for viewers to enjoy. We call it the chin cam.

Q. Does Taters have a favorite planet?
Harris: I believe Taters would choose Mars as his favorite planet because of the dirt and sand it offers. An entire planet being a litter box would be a dream come true for him. He also has a fondness for bad smells, so he might enjoy Venus or a place with abundant methane. As long as there’s dirt and methane, Taters would be in heaven.

Q. What is Taters’ mission?
Harris: Taters’ mission is to show people that they can achieve the impossible without leaving their couch. He has proven that through his involvement in the communications experiment.

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