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Space Monkey

Space Monkey

Albert II in preparation for his historic flight. Image Credit: NASA

Although men have gone to space, they were not the first ones there. Scientists have sent a number of different animals up into space including monkeys. Both Russia and America sent monkeys into space. This is because scientists wanted to determine what the biological effects of space travel were before they sent humans up. While Russia only used rhesus monkeys, the US used many different species including rhesus monkeys, squirrel monkeys, cynomolgus monkeys, pig-tailed macaques, and chimpanzees. Even France sent up two monkeys into space during the 1960’s. These animals were both recovered alive.

Many of the monkeys sent up into space died either on impact or in space. The US sent four monkeys into space named Albert, all of which died. The first monkey that actually passed the Kaman line and made it into space was Albert II. He was sent up in 1949 and died on impact.

Gordo, who was also known as Old Reliable, was sent into space in 1958. A squirrel monkey, he was chosen because of the similarity of the species to the human body. Gordo was lost on impact and neither him nor the shuttle was recovered; however, scientists were heartened by the mission because they believed it helped prove that humans could survive in space. The first monkeys to survive space were Able and Miss Baker who were sent up in 1959.

The Russians sent dogs up into space in addition to monkeys, which is why they did not send nearly as many monkeys into space as America did. Thus the first monkey that they actually sent into space was not until 1983. The monkeys that the Russians sent into space were named according to the letters of the alphabet. One of these monkeys – Dryoma – who went to space in 1987 – was later given to Fidel Castro. The last monkeys the Russians sent up into space were Lapik and Multik whe went up in 1997. Both of them survived the mission, but Multik had a heart attack a day after the flight during medical tests.

One of the most famous monkeys ever sent into space was Ham the Chimp. He was trained to operate the controls of the spaceship becoming the first animal to not just be a passenger. Ham was recovered safe after his capsule crashed in the Atlantic Ocean. Scientists were able to determine that astronauts would then be able to operate instruments in space and Alan Shepard went into space several months after Ham.

Universe Today has articles on Russia to send monkey to Mars and first monkey in space.

For more information, check out animals in space and monkeys in space fifty years later.

Astronomy Cast has an episode on spacesuits.

Source: NASA

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