On the 50th anniversary of NASA's founding, a small photo tribute to the unsung, furry pioneers who journeyed into orbit, paving the way for human spaceflight.
Handlers at the Soviet Academy of Sciences show off some of the dogs in their space program. During the 1950s and 1960s, the Russians launched missions that included passenger slots for at least 57 dogs. The number of animals that actually reached space is smaller, as several dogs went more than once.
A squirrel monkey, his body swathed in protective silicon rubber padding, is strapped into a capsule as part of a training exercise for spaceflight. A comrade of his known as Gordo was similarly secured for a 1958 fifteen-minute flight that ascended to a height of 310 miles. Though it is believed that Gordo survived the entirety of his flight, the parachute on his craft failed to open and he and his capsule were lost at sea.
Able and Baker
The first two monkeys to survive their trip into space are presented at a NASA press conference in 1959. Able, on the left, a seven-pound rhesus monkey, and Baker, an 11-ounce squirrel monkey from Peru, withstood forces 38 times the normal pull of gravity and endured weightlessness for about 9 minutes during their historic flight. Able died four days after returning to earth during a relatively simple surgery to remove an infected electrode. Baker lived until 1984.
In early 1961, just a few months before Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin launched into orbit, NASA was using chimps to help iron out the kinks in its Mercury program. Approximately 20 of them were trained at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico on equipment simulating space flight, like the rocket sled, above.
The chimps in the Holloman program were prepared for launch in a Mercury capsule, similar to the one above.
Two chimps from the Holloman program were successfully launched into orbit. A chimp named Ham, whose journey lasted 16 minutes and 59 seconds, took off in January 1961. His comrade, Enos, blasted off ten months later, above, for a journey that circled the Earth two times.
After his brief journey into orbit, Ham splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean and he and his capsule were recovered by a rescue ship. He only suffered a bruised nose during his flight.