Saturday, January 31, 2015



Cape Canaveral, Florida  (JFK+50) Fifty-four years ago today, January 31, 1961, the United States successfully launched Ham*, a chimpanzee, into space making it a first for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The chimp, born in the French Cameroons and trained at the Holloman Aerospace Medical Center in Alomagordo, New Mexico,  survived a 16 minute 39 second flight.

Ham, the cream of the crop of 40 original primate candidates selected by NASA, was trained to push levers when lights on his spacecraft came on.  His flight was a complete success, as reported by the space agency, with Ham surviving with only a bruised nose.

Ham's handler, Edward Dittmer, said the chimp "performed so well and was remarkably handle.  I'd hold him and he was just like a little kid."

Edward Dittmer (left) and Ham
NASA Photograph

Ham's back-up, "Minnie," the only female trained by NASA, was the last-surviving space chimpanzee.  She died in 1998 at the age of 41.

In an article by Henry Nicholls published by The Guardian, Ham may not have fared as well as NASA claimed.  

A leading primatologist, Dr. Jane Goodall, who did a research project on chimps in Tanzania, watched the film made of Ham in flight and saw photographs made at the time of his recovery from space.  

Dr. Goodall said...

"I have never seen such terror on a chimp's face."

Of additional concern, is the discussion that NASA was considering having Ham stuffed after his death in 1983 and put on display at the Smithsonian. 

Fortunately, that idea was scrapped.  It was decided to retain Ham's skeleton while the rest of his remains were interred at the Space Hall of Fame in Alamogordo.

*Ham (1956-1983) was brought to Miami, Florida in 1959 where he was bought by the USAF and sent to New Mexico's "School for Space Chimps". 

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 the astrochimp, hero or victim," by Henry Nicholls, The Guardian, December 16, 2013,