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Space Chimps

Finally the Launch of Some Space Chimps

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Ham Checks Out Equipment

Ham Checks Out Equipment

NASA Headquarters - GReatest Images of NASA (NASA-HQ-GRIN)
It wasn't until January 31, 1961 the the first of the space chimps was launched. Ham, whose name was an acronym for Holloman Aero Med, became the first chimp (chimpanzee) in space. Ham went up aboard the Mercury Redstone rocket on a sub-orbital flight very similar to Alan Shepard's. Brought from the French Camaroons, West Africa, Ham was born July 1957. When he arrived at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico in 1959, the original flight plan called for an altitude of 115 miles and speeds ranging up to 4400 mph. Due to technical problems, however, the spacecraft carrying Ham reached an altitude of 157 miles and a speed of 5857 mph and landed 422 miles downrange rather than the anticipated 290 miles.

Ham performed well during his flight and splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean 60 miles from the recovery ship. He experienced a total of 6.6 minutes of weightlessness during a 16.5-minute flight. A post-flight medical examination found Ham to be slightly fatigued and dehydrated, but in good shape otherwise. Ham's mission paved the way for the successful launch of America's first human astronaut, Alan B. Shepard, Jr., on May 5, 1961. Upon the completion of a thorough medical examination, Ham was placed on display at the Washington Zoo in 1963 where he lived alone until September 25, 1980. He then was moved to the North Carolina Zoological Park in Asheboro. Upon his death on January 17, 1983, Ham's body was preserved and loaned by the Smithsonian Institution to the International Space Hall of Fame in Alamogordo, New Mexico.

The next primate launch was a disaster. Goliath, a one-and-a-half-pound squirrel monkey, was launched in an Air Force Atlas E rocket on November 10, 1961. The SPURT (Small Primate Unrestrained Test) monkey was killed when the rocket was destroyed 35 seconds after launch from Cape Canaveral.

The next of the space chimps was Enos. Enos orbit the earth on November 29, 1961, aboard a Mercury Atlas rocket. Originally he was supposed to orbit the Earth 3 times, but due to a malfunctioning thruster and other technical difficulties, flight controllers were forced to terminate Enos' flight after two orbits. Enos landed in the recovery area and was picked up 75 minutes after splashdown. He was found to be in good overall condition and both he and the Mercury spacecraft performed well. His mission concluded the testing for a human orbital flight, achieved by John Glenn on February 20, 1962. Enos died at Holloman Air Force Base of a non-space related case of dysentery 11 months after his flight.

From 1973 to 1996, Russia, or its predecessor, the Soviet Union, launched a series of life sciences satellites called Bion. Research partners have included Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, China, the Commonwealth of Independent States, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, the European Space Agency, France, Germany, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, and the United States. The Bion spacecraft is a modified Vostok type and is launched on a Soyuz rocket from the Plesetsk Kosmodrome in northern Russia.

Bion missions are typically put under the Kosmos umbrella name, used for a variety of different satellites including spy satellites. The first Bion launch was Kosmos 605 launched on October 31, 1973. The satellite carried tortoises, rats, insects, and fungi on a 22-day mission. Other missions have also carried plants, mold, quail eggs, fish, newts, frogs, cells, and seeds.

Starting with Bion 6 (Kosmos 1514), these missions have carried pairs of monkeys. Bion 6/Kosmos 1514 was launched December 14, 1983, and carried the monkeys Abrek and Bion on a five-day flight. Bion 7/Kosmos 1667 was launched July 10, 1985 and carried the monkeys Verny ("Faithful") and Gordy ("Proud") on a seven-day flight. Bion 8/Kosmos 1887 was launched September 29, 1987, and carried the monkeys Yerosha ("Drowsy") and Dryoma ("Shaggy") on a 13-day flight. Yerosha partially freed himself from his restraints and explored his orbital cage during the mission. On reentry, Bion 8 missed its touchdown point by 1850 miles, resulting in the death of several fish on board due to the frigid weather. Bion 9/Kosmos 2044 was launched September 15, 1989, and carried the monkeys Zhakonya and Zabiyaka ("Troublemaker") on a 14-day flight. Temperature problems onboard resulted in the loss of ant and earthworm experiments.

Bion 10/Kosmos 2229 was launched December 29, 1992, and carried the monkeys Krosh ("Tiny") and Ivasha on a 12-day flight. Bion 10 was recovered two days early due to thermal control problems that resulted in unacceptably high onboard temperatures. Seven of fifteen tadpoles onboard died as a result of the high temperatures. Both monkeys were treated for dehydration and recovered. One monkey also suffered weight loss when he went without food for three days. Bion 11 was launched December 24, 1996, and carried the monkeys Lapik and Multik ("Cartoon") on a 14-day flight. Tragically, Multik died the day after the capsule recovery during his post-landing medical operation and checkup.

Multik's death raised new questions regarding the ethics of using animals for research. NASA dropped out of participation in a planned Bion 12 mission. Although NASA continues biological experiments aboard space shuttle and ISS missions, there have been no more primate (space chimps) missions.

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