The first stars of the space race: Black and white pictures of Nasa chimps who went where no primate had gone before


Check Up: Doctors examine Ham the chimpanzee after his space flight on Feb 01, 1961, in Florida

Long before Neil Armstrong and Apollo 11 won the space race for the United States, the real stars of NASA were led by Ham and his fellow astro-chimps - the first Americans in space.
One of over a dozen chimpanzees trained by the U.S. to beat the Soviet Union’s attempt to win the space race, Ham made history over 50 years ago as the Cold War extended into orbit.
As the Russians moved closer to sending a human into orbit, the Americans decided to use three-year-old Ham — in a style reminiscent of a gas-detecting canary in a mine — to find out whether humans would be able to survive in space.

Go Go: Three chimpanzees Duane, Jim, and Chu eat snacks while strapped in their model space capsules. The chimps were among 75 being trained for space missions at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico on Jan 13, 1961

Beyond: At left, Ham tries out his combination couch and life support system in preparation for his flight. At right, Mercury Atlas-5 takes flight from Cape Canaveral on November 11, 1961

Monkey See: Several men open the space capsule of Ham the Space Chimp after his historic flight on a recovery ship off Cape Canaveral on Feb 1, 1961, in Florida

The most famous of all the chimps who were launched in Mercury space capsules that ultimately carried Alan Shepherd, the first American man into orbit, Ham was actually not named until after his January 1961 flight succeeded.
The name by which he’s now known — an acronym for Holloman Aerospace Medical Center at the Air Force base — was only used when he returned safely to earth.
This was because NASA reportedly wanted to avoid bad publicity should a named and therefore humanised animal be killed.

Parade: Chimps are trained at Holloman Air Force Base for space flight

LIFE magazine's Ralph Morse — who photographed the Space Race and NASA astronauts for more than a decade — told LIFE .com that even 50 years later, he fondly recalls the astro-chimps
'Ham, especially, was a very friendly fellow,' he said. 'Those were great assignments, shooting the early years with NASA. You really got the sense that these were incredibly smart people just working their tails off to do something that had never been done before.'
The Soviet Union sent dogs into space in 1957, but the U.S. decided on chimps because of their genetic similarities to humans.
Originally from Cameroon in Africa, and once a star attraction for a Florida zoo, Ham was added to the astro-chimp team in the United States Air Force to go into space.

Team Work: At left, a chimp learns how to operate his space capsule and at right, a chimp bonds with his trainer during a check up at Holloman Air Force Base

Blast Off: The Mercury space capsule carrying Ham the chimpanzee heads for outer space

The difference between Ham and the Russian dogs was that he would not only go up into space, but also come down again safely.
He and his fellow chimps were prepared for the flight for almost three years, and taught to complete simple tasks in response to lights and sounds.
Pushing a lever within five seconds of seeing a flashing blue light earned him a banana pellet; failure gave him a mild electric shock to the soles of his feet.
'According to one story, which strict scientists contend is apocryphal,' LIFE magazine wrote at the time.
'A veterinarian gave a banana to a chimp before a rocket sled ride. As the animal peeled it, the ride started with a lurch and the monkey got the banana full in the face.

Introductions: US astronaut Alan Shepard, right, is photographed with chimpanzee Ham who preceded him in space with a 16' 39'' seconds sub-orbital flight performed aboard the Mercury Redstone rocket on January 31, 1961. At left, another astro-chimp named 'Enos' is pictured

Smile: 'Ham,' the astro-chimp, reaches for an apple offered to him by a crewman of the USS Donner. This was the first food for the chimpanzee following a 420-mile ride in a Mercury capsule launched by a Redstone Rocket from Cape Canaveral

Relax: Enos, a 5 1/2 year old space chimpanzee reclines in the flight couch in which he is about to make his space flight from Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA on the Mercury-Atlas 5 capsule

Safety: A monkey is fitted out with an oxygen mask during a face test at the USAF Wright Air Development Center, near Dayton, Ohio

'The next time the chimp was offered a banana before a sled ride, he took, peeled it, and smeared it over the veterinarian’s face.'
Teams of scientists put the apes to the test on machines that measured if they could cope in with gravity, velocity and the heat of space.
On January 31, 1961, Ham was launched on Mission MR-2 — but almost immediately there was a hitch.
The flight path was a degree higher than it should have been, meaning the craft reached an altitude of 157 miles above the earth — higher than the planned target of 115, and oxygen levels began to drop.
For six minutes of the flight, Ham was weightless as the capsule sped across the sky at around 5,000mph.

Exit: Ham, the space chimp, reaches for the hand of US Air Force veterinarian, Richard E. Benson, upon his arrival at the recovery ship after his historic ride through space on Mercury-Redstone 2 in 1961

Journey: At left, Enos, is escorted by Airman Michael Berman (L) and M/Sgt. Edward Dittmar on his return to Patrick Air Force Base, following his space flight. Enos was launched from Cape Canaveral November 29th and twice orbited the earth before landing safely in the Atlantic Ocean south of Bermuda. Ham is pictured right

Home: A chimp is trained at the Holloman Air Force Base for space flight

Drive: A chimp operates a device during training at Holloman Air Force Base for space flight

Firsts: 'Kokomo, Jr.' holds his nose after checking a headline stating that a Russian is the first spaceman. Everyone knows that Kokomo Jr.'s cousin, U.S. space chimpanzee 'Ham' had made trip into space earlier this year and returned safely

It splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean 16 minutes and 39 seconds later, and when rescuers reached it, Ham gratefully accepted an apple and half an orange.
He was unharmed by his adventure, and went to live at the National Zoo in Washington for 17 years. He died at North Carolina Zoo at the age of 25 and is now buried at the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo, New Mexico.
The space race didn’t end with his flight, though.
Although NASA said that they had put a primate into space, the Russians argued that the flight was only sub-orbital — in other words, it hadn’t gone right round the world and did not count.
So, famously on April 12, 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin entered the history books when he became the first man in space aboard Vostok 1.
The Americans followed a month later on May 5 when Alan B. Shepard became their first astronaut. By then, Ham already had his feet up.

Cheeky: 'Ham' the chimpanzee wears a disdainful expression as he is released from his Mercury capsule seat after his historic space flight on Jan 31, 1961

source: dailymail