Astro Chimp

First Astronaut Never Told
Anyone About His Experience

In 1961, the U.S. was hopelessly behind the Soviet Union in the space race. The Soviets had already sent the Sputnik and a dog named Laika into orbit and, few knew at the time, were readying Yuri Gagarin to be the first human to fly beyond earth’s atmosphere that same year.
Under pressure, the U.S. couldn’t even find an American born chimpanzee to be trained and flown to outer space. The solution was to use Ham, a French Camaroon-born chimp, who was purchased for $457 for the experiment. His 16 minutes of fame came and went fast, but gave the U.S. some precious time to get it together.
You wouldn’t want to know the gruesome regime Ham went through to be chosen among other primates, or the most likely terrifying crushing forces on take-off and re-entry, but you can imagine the disorientation he had to endure during periods of weightlessness. Alas, the poor thing couldn’t tell you either. But he survived.
Ham, who was born along with the Sputnik in 1957, flew in the Mercury-Redstone II 50 years ago January 31, and retired soon after to a zoo in Washington, DC. An over indulgent lifestyle of celebrity pampering and constant exposure to visiting crowds proved too much for him, though, and he died, as a fat Elvis, in 1983.
As we still use animals as our stand ins, sending them to step into the void that may kill them while keeping us alive, some wonder whether there will be ever a time when we’ll need their permission before disposing of their lives at our own will.
Maybe that’s what that GOP representative meant last week, when he went to national TV to claim that he “didn’t come from a monkey.” Given the hardship even the famous ones go through in our hands, who would?

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