By Tom Dare
FASCINATING FOOTAGE and pictures of monkeys being sent into space by NASA at the start of the space race has emerged this week, giving some insight into how far technology has advanced in the past 50-years.
A video created by NASA in January 1961 shows Ham, a chimpanzee who was trained to operate certain levers while in a space-bound rocket, being strapped into a special bio-pack couch before being blasted into space.
And photos from two-years earlier show several different monkeys being prepared for their own trips into space with one, South American squirrel monkey Miss Baker, becoming the first to survive the stresses of spaceflight and related medical procedures.
The images come from a period which saw the United States and USSR go neck and neck in the so called ‘space race’, with each having the goal of going further than the other in space exploration.
The U.S. sent its first monkey into space in 1948, with rhesus monkey Albert dying of suffocation during a 63km flight on a V2 rocket. Over the next 11-years NASA sent several other monkeys into space, none of which were able to survive both the rigours of space travel and the after-effects of it.
This changed, however, with the flight of Miss Baker and Miss Able on May 28, 1959.
The two were sent up in the nose of the PGM-19 Jupiter flight, reaching an altitude of 95km and a top speed of 10,000mph during their 16-minute flight. Sadly, Miss Able died a few days after the flight landed due to complications during surgery, but Miss Baker had a very different experience. She not only survived the flight, but lived for another 15-years, eventually dying in 1984. Her body is buried on the grounds of the U.S. Space and Rockets centre.
The survival of Miss Baker opened the door for NASA to begin testing on hominids, the class of apes which includes both humans and chimpanzees.
Selected from a group of 40 possible candidates, Ham became the first hominid to be launched into space when his project mercury mission MR-2 took off from Cape Canavarel, Florida on January 31, 1961.
Ham was given a series of levers to pull and small tasks to complete during his flight, to test the effect space travel had on reaction time. Scientists found that Ham’s reaction time was only slightly slower than while on earth during his 16-minute flight, which reached a top speed of 9,426 km/h and carried him 420-miles from the launch site.
Despite some unexpected complications during the flight Ham survived both the landing and the aftermath, eventually passing away on January 19, 1983.