Cape Canaveral, Florida (JFK+50) 53 years ago today, January 31, 1961, the United States successfully launched a chimpanzee into space, a first for the American space program.
The chimp, named HAM*, survived a 16 minute 39 second flight with only a bruised nose.
Ham, born in Cameroon, had been trained at Holloman Aerospace Medical Center.
Ham the Astrochimp
January 31, 1961
*Ham (1956-1983) was brought to Miami, Florida in 1959 where he was bought by the USAF and sent to New Mexico for space training.
After his successful space flight, Ham lived 17 years at Washington, D.C.'s National Zoo. He died at the North Carolina Zoo at the age of 26.
Ham was buried at the International Space Hall of Fame in Alamogordo, NM.
Grave of Ham the Astro-chimp
Alamogordo, New Mexico
Photo by AllenS (2008)
The flight was a complete success exceeding the projected altitude of 115 miles by another 40 and landing 160 miles beyond the landing target.
Ham was trained to push levers when lights on his spacecraft came on.
NASA reported that he completed his tasks well.
The space agency determined that if a chimp could function well in space, then so should human astronauts.
Despite the success of this mission, the United States remained behind the Soviet Union in the space race in the year 1961.
The Soviets had launched two dogs, Belka and Strelka, the previous year. They both orbited the earth and returned home safely.
In December 1961, another American chimpanzee was launched into space while President John F. Kennedy was in the middle of a news conference.
At one point, Press Secretary Pierre Salinger walked to the podium and slipped JFK a note.
The President looked at the note and then said...
"This chimpanzee who was flying in space, took off at 10:08. He reports that everything is going perfectly and working well."
JFK at News Conference