Monkeys in Outer Space: 50 Years Later

monkey-capsule.jpg
—Image courtesy NASA

Thankfully this is not a very odd sort of suppository. This is a squirrel monkey called Miss Baker, sitting in a NASA bio-capsule.

On May 28, 1959, Miss Baker and a rhesus monkey named Able became the first primates to survive a trip into outer space.

Both monkeys flew onboard a Jupiter AM-18 rocket to a height of 360 miles (579 kilometers) before plummeting back to Earth to land in the ocean.

A U.S. Navy vessel found the monkeys alive and well when it recovered the lander. The heroic monkeynauts were immediately taken to Washington, D.C., for a press conference.

Sadly, Able died a few days later during surgery due to complications with an infected electrode. But Miss Baker lasted until 1984, when she died of kidney failure at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Of course, the famous pair were hardly the first animal astronauts.

More than ten years before Baker and Able’s flight, a rhesus monkey named Albert I got blasted into space on a V2 rocket, but he died of suffocation during the flight—before even making it to space.

The “Albert series” of test flights included three more monkeys and a handful of mice, many of which died on impact during the return voyage.

Russia had its share of space animals on one-way trips too, including a street mutt named Laika, the first living animal to orbit Earth. Too bad for the historic hound that the Russians didn’t allow time to design a safe return, dooming the dog to a fiery demise.

Russia must have been on to something, though, because they managed to send the first person into space, Yuri Gagarin, in 1961. Gagarin made it safely back to terra firma after a 108-minute flight.

Once people started blasting off, animals continued making the trip to space, albeit largely as test subjects sent alongside human counterparts, pretty much guaranteeing a safe return.

But given the uncertain status of NASA’s budget for sending more humans to space, you American monkeys, mice, and dogs better start hoping that the space agency doesn’t decide to go back to basics…

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