Who Were Able and Baker?
On May 28, 1959, aboard the JUPITER AM-18, Able, a rhesus monkey, and Miss Baker, a squirrel monkey flew a successful mission. They were the first living creatures to be successfully recovered after a trip into space.
Able was born at the Ralph Mitchell Zoo in Independence, Kansas. They traveled in excess of 16,000 km/h, and withstood 38 g (373 m/s2). Able died on June 1, 1959, while undergoing surgery to remove an infected medical electrode, from a reaction to the anesthesia. Baker became the first monkey to survive the stresses of spaceflight and the related medical procedures.
Although Able died in June 1959, monkey Baker survived until 1984. Baker died on November 29, 1984, at the age of 27 and is buried on the grounds of the United States Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Able was preserved, and is now on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum. Their names were taken from the US military phonetic alphabet.
Later in 1959 and in early 1960 there were further experiments involving a pair of monkeys named Sam and Miss Sam. On December 4, 1959, Sam, a rhesus monkey, flew on the Little Joe 2 in the Mercury program to 53 miles high. Miss Sam, also a rhesus monkey, followed in 1960, on Little Joe 1B although her flight was only to 8 mi (13 km) in a test of emergency procedures.
Ham and Enos also flew in the Mercury program but they were chimpanzees. The names ‘Sam’ and ‘Ham’ were acronyms. Sam was named in homage to the School of Aerospace Medicine at Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. The name ‘Ham’ was taken from Holloman Aerospace Medicine at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico.
Goliath, a squirrel monkey, died in the explosion of his Atlas rocket on November 10, 1961. A rhesus monkey called Scatback flew a sub-orbital flight on December 20, 1961, but was lost at sea after landing.
Bonny, a pig-tailed macaque, flew on Biosatellite 3, a mission which lasted from June 29 to July 8, 1969. This was the first multi-day monkey flight, but came after longer human spaceflights were common. He died within a day of landing.
Spacelab 3 on the Space Shuttle flight STS-51-B featured two squirrel monkeys named No. 3165 and No. 384-80. The flight was from April 29 to May 6, 1985.
Soviet scientists decided against using monkeys for test flights. Their scientific research – published in September 1958 – suggested the monkeys would have to be anesthetized and the anesthetic would interfere with test results.
They had already launched a dog, Laika, into space in November 1957. At the time, Russian scientists claimed the dog had survived a week in orbit but later reports show it died shortly after take-off from overheating and panic.
But it was the Russians who won the race to launch the first man into space. Major Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin orbited the Earth for nearly two hours on 12 April 1961.