I officially declare today to be Chimps in Space Day.
On January 31st, 1961, NASA launched a Mercury-Redstone rocket to do a capabilities test on the Mercury capsule. A four year-old chimpanzee named Number 65 was on board to enjoy the sub-orbital flight, lasting about 16 ½ minutes with 7 minutes of weightlessness. On his successful return to Earth, Number 65 received the name Ham (For a Chimpanzee? Really?) and a long, relaxing retirement at the National Zoo in Washington and then the North Carolina Zoo. He was only 26 when he died (average for a chimp is around 40).
Ham went up to see if it was safe to send people. During the flight, he duplicated pre-programmed tasks and had some heavy duty (for 1961) medical monitoring to make sure he was operating within normal parameters. The NASA scientists must have decided he worked out okay since they sent Alan Shepard sub-orbital only three months later.
Not the first primate in space, but among the earliest to survive the trip (a number of launch and parachute failures claimed early simian astronauts), Ham should be considered a pioneer, and certainly a hero of the early space age. The title of this post notwithstanding, neither the training nor the trip were probably all that fun for him.
Be well, everyone, and take a look at the stars tonight.