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
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
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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