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Ham - The Original Space Chimp 1957-1983
Space Chimps pays lighthearted tribute to the original Ham, one of the first heroes of the American space program. The John Glenn of the monkey world, Ham blasted off from Cape Canaveral on January 31, 1961 and traveled 155 miles in 16.5 minutes before splashing down safely in the Atlantic. Ham's reward? A delicious apple.

Ham's incredible journey began in the central African nation of Cameroon. When he was three years old, the intrepid chimp left the equatorial jungle for Alamogordo in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico. With five other specially selected chimpanzees, Ham attended a rigorous training program to prepare for space flight. His name is an acronym for the lab that prepared him for his historic mission, the Holloman Aerospace Medical Center, located at Holloman Air Force Base.

Because of the unknown risks of space travel, NASA decided to send a chimp where no man had gone before. Ham and his classmates were chosen for this monumental mission because of chimps' close physiological resemblance to humans and their high intelligence. The chimpanzee assigned to the historic Mercury-Redstone suborbital launch would be asked to perform a lever-pulling chore throughout the mission. This would test the capsule's life-support systems and prove that levers could be pulled during launch, weightlessness and reentry.

Training for the recruits was tough. A team of 20 medical specialists and animal handlers supervised as Ham and his classmates learned the control panel of the Mercury Redstone. Their assignment included pulling a right-hand lever when a white light came on and a left-hand lever when a blue light came on. They were rewarded with banana pellets for making the correct choice.

Once their training was complete, the space chimps were taken to Cape Canaveral, Florida. While small primates and other animals had gone into space on earlier flights, the capsule's occupant had never been more than a passenger. The stage was now set for NASA to take an enormous step toward achieving the goals of Project Mercury.

Only one chimp would be selected for the inaugural flight. Ham was not yet four years old when he received the assignment of a lifetime. A smart, loveable chimp with a sunny personality, Ham was affectionate, cuddly and loved the spotlight. He was the perfect candidate.

When the launch day finally came, the ship's liftoff and entry into space went smoothly, but the fuel burned more quickly than anticipated, propelling Ham more than 100 miles farther than planned. Traveling too high, too fast, the Mercury-Redstone was out of fuel in just over two minutes. Ham withstood gravitational forces of up to 14.7 G's, about 3.3 G's more than planned.

Despite the increased speed, Ham maintained his concentration and performed his required tasks with great accuracy. His lever-pushing performance was just marginally slower than on Earth. The capsule partially lost pressure during the flight, but Ham's space suit prevented him from suffering any harm. He also experienced about seven minutes of weightlessness during the flight, with no ill effect.

Just over a quarter hour after liftoff, Ham's capsule splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean. His spacecraft took on water due to the impact, but he was successfully recovered and taken to a waiting vessel. Ham's only injury was a bruised nose.

Safely back on Earth, Ham was given a physical examination and pronounced fatigued but medically sound. In apparent good spirits, Ham happily posed for pictures with the sailors on the recovery ship before enthusiastically enjoying his apple.

With the flight a success, Ham became an international celebrity and received the ultimate pop culture honor of the day—his picture on the cover of Life magazine. Using the information gathered during Ham's successful flig


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