Monkes in Space

Human beings do not hold dominion over this Earth. We don’t. We’ve acted like we do, at least the powerful have throughout all of history and still to this day, but it’s obviously not the case. Though, in our very recent past as a species through agriculture and religion we have separated ourselves very much from other animals. Where we once lived among the mammals, birds and reptiles, we now saw them and their ways as beneath us. We separated ourselves with houses and as time went on a great few geniuses would develop emerging technologies that propelled all of humanity forward. Sailing ships became steam-powered. Mail was outrun by telegrams. And before even the invention of the internet, we made rockets that flew through the sky and into the void of space itself! Such an amazing thing yet untouched by man!

For hundreds, even thousands of years, humans have often looked up at the stars and wondered not only our place in it, but our potential to traverse them one day. And in April of 1961, the first human being, Yuri Gagarin exited Earth’s atmosphere and entered the true great beyond. But Yuri was not the first animal to enter it. That goes to fruit flies in 1957. But what about primates, mammals even? Surely that record can go to the human Yuri? No. That record goes to Albert II, a rhesus monkey that was launched into space in June 1949. He died upon re-entry. He did not volunteer to be launched into space, and his death was but one of many. This video will go over the stories of the many monkeys and apes that were sent into the void.

But first I just want to say welcome back one and all to the review series that matters most! Monke in review. Whether the weather be weathered for furry friends across our genetic branches or not, we’ll be here to review the best and brightest among us. This will be different from the others. It’ll be the first of a 3-part mini series where I go over not one notable monke, but several within a field of human endevours. Today’s topic, is monkes in space.

If you want a comprehensive documentary about this subject, at least the ape part, then check out One Small Step: The Story of the Space Chimps. It’s a 2008 documentary film produced and directed by David Cassidy and Kristin Davy. The film chronicles the real story behind the early use of chimpanzees in space exploration. Coincidentally, also in 2008 the film Chimps in Space released. As far as I can find that was just a coincidence, and the films share only a superficial resemblance.

As I stated at the top, Before humans went into space, several other animals were used, including numerous non-human primates, so that scientists could investigate the biological effects of spaceflight. In an article written by Tara Gray on NASA’s own website, quote, “Before humans actually went into space, one of the prevailing theories of the perils of space flight was that humans might not be able to survive long periods of weightlessness. For several years, there had been a serious debate among scientists about the effects of prolonged weightlessness. American and Russian scientists utilized animals – mainly monkeys, chimps and dogs – in order to test each country’s ability to launch a living organism into space and bring it back alive and unharmed.”

The United States launched flights containing primate passengers primarily between 1948 to 1985. France launched two monkey-carrying flights in 1967. The Soviet Union had their fair share of primate launches, but more recently, from 1983 all the way up until 1996. And then there’s China, Argentina, and Iran, but we’ll get to them in due time.

Overall, it’s been recorded that thirty-two non-human primates flew in the space program. None flew more than once. Most were anesthetized before lift-off. And numerous backup primates also went through the programs but never flew. Of all the animals used by humans in space flight, the non-human primates included were rhesus macaque, crab-eating macaque, squirrel monkeys, pig-tailed macaques, and chimpanzees. The most-detailed primates we’ll cover were from the US flights, only because they were the least shady about it. And after doing the research I did, I’m under the opinion that what public records exist about this must only scratch the surface for the other countries.

Let’s start at the beginning

The first primate launched into subspace was Albert, a rhesus macaque, who on June 11, 1948, rode a rocket flight to over 63 km in Earth’s atmosphere on a V-2 rocket. Albert died of suffocation during the flight and may actually have died in the cramped space capsule before launch. The capsule was redesigned before the next flight to enlarge the quarters.

On June 14, 1949, our boy Albert II made the record for the first primate and mammal to pass the ‘Kármán line’ of 100 km which designates the beginning of space. His flight reached 134 km (83 mi) – before coming back down, where he died upon re-entry. A parachute failure caused his capsule to strike the ground at high speed. Albert’s respiratory and cardiological data were recorded up to the moment of impact.

On September 16, 1949, Albert III died below the Kármán line, at 35,000 feet (10.7 km), in an explosion of his V2. On December 8, Albert IV, the second mammal in space, flew on the last monkey V-2 flight and died on impact after another parachute failure after reaching 130.6  km. Monkeys later flew on Aerobee rockets.

On April 18, 1951, a monkey, possibly called Albert V, died due to parachute failure. On September 20th, 1951, Yorick, also called Albert VI, along with 11 mouse crewmates, reached 236,000 ft (72 km, 44.7 mi) and came down, successfully surviving the landing. He was the first monkey to do so (the dogs Dezik and Tsygan had survived a trip to space in July of that year), although he died two hours later. Two of the mice also died after recovery; all of the deaths were thought to be related to stress from overheating in the sealed capsule in the New Mexico sun while awaiting the recovery team. The Albert names were put to rest after this flight.

Patricia and Mike, two crab-eating monkeys, flew on May 21, 1952, and survived, but their flight was only 26 kilometers.

On December 13, 1958, Gordo, also called Old Reliable, a squirrel monkey, survived being launched aboard Jupiter AM-13. After flying for over 1,500 miles and reaching a height of 310 miles (500 km) Gorgo came back down over the south Atlantic only to be killed due to a mechanical error with the parachute recovery system in the nose of the rocket. Despite the loss of Gordo, the mission was considered a success by NASA. It had gone some way towards alleviating the concerns over how the human body would cope with weightlessness and the difficulties of space travel.

On May 28, 1959, aboard the JUPITER AM-18, Able, a rhesus macaque, and Miss Baker, a squirrel monkey from Peru, flew a successful mission. They travelled in excess of 16,000 km/h, and withstood 38 g (373 m/s2). Able died June 1, 1959, while undergoing surgery to remove an infected medical electrode, from a reaction to the anesthesia. While Baker took home the title of becoming the first monkey to survive the stresses of spaceflight and the related medical procedures that came after. Baker would later die 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.

On December 4, 1959, from Wallops Island, Virginia, Sam, a rhesus macaque, flew on the Little Joe 2 in the Mercury program to 53 miles high. On January 21, 1960, Miss Sam, also a rhesus macaque, followed, on Little Joe 1B although her flight was only to 8 mi (13 km) in a test of emergency procedures.


Chimpanzees Ham and Enos flew in the Mercury program, with Ham becoming the first great ape or Hominidae in space. The name “Ham” was an acronym, taken from the laboratory that prepared him for his historic mission—the Holloman Aerospace Medical Center. His name was also in honor of the commander of the Laboratory, Lieutenant Colonel Hamilton “Ham” Blackshear. However, this wasn’t always the case. There were originally 40 chimpanzee flight candidates at Holloman. After evaluation, the number of candidates was reduced to 18, then to six, including Ham. Officially, Ham was known as No. 65 before his flight, and only renamed “Ham” upon his successful return to Earth. This was reportedly because officials did not want the bad press that would come from the death of a “named” chimpanzee if the mission were a failure. But despite this, among his handlers, No. 65 had been known as “Chop Chop Chang”. So what did Ham do?

Beginning in July 1959, the two-year-old chimpanzee was trained under the direction of neuroscientist Joseph V. Brady at the Lab to do simple, timed tasks in response to electric lights and sounds. During his pre-flight training, Ham was taught to push a lever within five seconds of seeing a flashing blue light; failure to do so resulted in an application of a light electric shock to the soles of his feet, while a correct response earned him a banana pellet.

On January 31, 1961, Ham was secured in a Project Mercury mission designated MR-2 and launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a suborbital flight.   Ham’s vital signs and tasks were monitored by sensors and computers on Earth. The capsule suffered a partial loss of pressure during the flight, but Ham’s space suit prevented him from suffering any harm.   Ham’s lever-pushing performance in space was only a fraction of a second slower than on Earth, demonstrating that tasks could be performed in space.   Ham’s capsule splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean and was recovered by the USS Donner later that day.   His only physical injury was a bruised nose. His flight was 16 minutes and 39 seconds long. The results from his test flight led directly to the mission Alan Shepard made on May 5, 1961, aboard Freedom 7.

Ham later retired and lived another 17 years at the North Carolina Zoo. After his death on January 19, 1983, Ham’s body was given to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology for necropsy. Following the necropsy, the plan was to have him stuffed and placed on display at the Smithsonian Institution, following Soviet precedent with pioneering space dogs Belka, and Strelka. However, this plan was abandoned after a negative public reaction. Ham’s skeleton is held in the collection of the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Silver Spring, Maryland, and the rest of Ham’s remains were buried at the International Space Hall of Fame in Alamogordo, New Mexico.

Ham is survived by numerous works of art done about him or inspired by him, including:

Ray Allen & The Embers released the song “Ham the Space Monkey” in 1961.

Tom Wolfe‘s 1979 book The Right Stuff which depicts Ham’s spaceflight, as do its 1983 film and 2020 TV adaptations.

The 2001 film Race to Space is a fictionalized version of Ham’s story; the chimpanzee in the film is named “Mac”.

In 2007, a French documentary made in association with Animal Planet, Ham—Astrochimp #65, tells the story of Ham as witnessed by Jeff, who took care of Ham until his departure from the Air Force base after the success of the mission.

The 2008 3D animated film Space Chimps follows anthropomorphic chimpanzees and their adventures in space. The primary protagonist is named Ham III, depicted as the grandson of Ham.

And, In 2008, Bark Hide and Horn, a folk-rock band from Portland, Oregon, released a song titled “Ham the Astrochimp”, detailing the journey of Ham from his perspective.

Following Ham came Enos. Enos was the second chimpanzee launched into space by NASA. He was the first and only chimpanzee, and third hominid after cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin and Gherman Titov, to orbit the Earth. Enos’s flight occurred on November 29, 1961.

Enos was brought from the Miami Rare Bird Farm on April 3, 1960. He completed more than 1,250 training hours at the University of Kentucky and Holloman Air Force Base. Training was more intense for him than for his predecessor Ham, because Enos was going to be exposed to weightlessness and higher gs for longer periods of time. His training included psychomotor instruction and aircraft flights.

Enos was selected for his Project Mercury flight only three days before launch. Two months prior, NASA launched Mercury-Atlas 4 on September 13, 1961, to conduct an identical mission with a “crewman simulator” on board. Enos flew into space aboard Mercury-Atlas 5 on November 29, 1961. He completed his first orbit in 1 hour and 28 minutes.

Enos was scheduled to complete three orbits, but the mission was aborted after two due to two issues: capsule overheating and a malfunctioning “avoidance conditioning” test subjecting the primate to 76 electrical shocks. Damn you NASA you sons of bitches!

The capsule was brought aboard USS Stormes in the late afternoon and Enos was immediately taken below deck by his Air Force handlers. Stormes arrived in Bermuda the next day.

Enos’s flight was a full dress rehearsal for the next Mercury launch on February 20, 1962, which would make John Glenn the first American to orbit Earth, after astronauts Alan Shepard, Jr. and Gus Grissom‘s successful suborbital space flights.

On November 4, 1962, Enos died of shigellosis-related dysentery, which was resistant to then-known antibiotics. He was constantly observed for two months before his death. Pathologists reported no symptoms that could be attributed or related to his previous space flight, so that was not the cause. While Ham is the more famous of the two chimps, Enos will always be remembered. But the humans were not done. The test flights continued.


Goliath, a squirrel monkey, died in the explosion of his Atlas rocket on November 10, 1961. A rhesus macaque 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.

And that covers all of NASA’s recorded non-human space flights. From here we will now venture to a country that once tried to rule the world: France.


France launched a pig-tailed macaque named Martine on a Vesta rocket on March 7, 1967, and another named Pierette on March 13. These suborbital flights reached 243 km (151 mi) and 234 km (145 mi), respectively. Martine became the first monkey to survive more than a couple of hours after flying above the international definition of the edge of space. And that ends the tale of France in this entry. Next, we will travel to Argentina.


On December 23, 1969, as part of the ‘Operación Navidad’ (Operation Christmas), Argentina launched Juan (a tufted capuchin, native to Argentina’s Misiones Province) using a two-stage Rigel 04 rocket. It ascended perhaps up to 82 kilometers and then was recovered successfully. Other sources give 30, 60 or 72 kilometers. All of these are below the international definition of space (100 km). Later, on February 1, 1970, the experience was repeated with a female monkey of the same species using an X-1 Panther rocket. Although it reached a higher altitude than its predecessor, it was lost after the capsule’s parachute failed.

Soviet Union and Russia

The Soviet /Russian space program used only rhesus macaques in its Bion satellite program in 1980s and 1990s. The names of the monkeys began with sequential letters of the Russian alphabet (А, Б, В, Г, Д, Е, Ё, Ж, З…). The animals all survived their missions but for a single fatality in post-flight surgery, after which the program was cancelled.

  1. The first monkeys launched by Soviet space program, Abrek and Bion, flew on Bion 6. They remained aloft from December 14, 1983 – December 20, 1983.
  2. Next came Bion 7 with monkeys Verny and Gordy from July 10, 1985 – July 17, 1985.
  3. Then Dryoma and Yerosha on Bion 8 from September 29, 1987 – October 12, 1987. After returning from space Dryoma was presented to Cuban leader Fidel Castro.[citation needed]
  4. Bion 9 with monkeys Zhakonya and Zabiyaka followed from September 15, 1989 to September 28, 1989. The two took the space endurance record for monkeys at 13 days, 17 hours in space.
  5. Monkeys Ivasha and Krosh flew on Bion 10 from December 29, 1992 to January 7, 1993. Krosh produced offspring, after rehabilitation upon returning to Earth.
  6. Lapik and Multik were the last monkeys in space until Iran launched one of its own in 2013. The pair flew aboard Bion 11 from December 24, 1996, to January 7, 1997. Upon return, Multik died while under anesthesia for US biopsy sampling on January 8. Lapik nearly died while undergoing the identical procedure. No follow-up research has been conducted to determine whether these two incidents, together with the 1959 loss of the US monkey Able in post-flight surgery, contraindicate the administration of anesthesia during or shortly after spaceflights. Further US support of the Bion program was cancelled.


The PRC spacecraft Shenzhou 2 launched on January 9, 2001. It is rumoured that inside the reentry module (precise information is lacking due to the secrecy surrounding China’s space program) a monkey, dog, and rabbit rode aloft in a test of the spacecraft’s life support systems. The SZ2 reentry module landed in Inner Mongolia on January 16. No images of the recovered capsule appeared in the press, leading to the widespread inference that the flight ended in failure. According to press reports citing an unnamed source, a parachute connection malfunction caused a hard landing.


On January 28, 2013, AFP and Sky News reported that Iran had sent a monkey in a “Pishgam” rocket to a height of 72 miles (116 km) and retrieved “shipment”. Iranian media gave no details on the timing or location of the launch, while details that were reported raised questions about the claim. Pre-flight and post-flight photos clearly showed different monkeys. The confusion was due to the publishing of an archive photo from 2011 by the Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA). According to Jonathan McDowell, a Harvard astronomer, “They just mixed that footage with the footage of the 2013 successful launch.”

On December 14, 2013, AFP and BBC reported that Iran again sent a monkey to space and safely returned it. Rhesus macaque Aftab (2013.01.28) and Fargam (2013.12.14) were each launched separately into space and safely returned. Researchers continue to study the effects of the space trip on their offspring.


To quote Tara Gray again, “Over the past 50 years, American and Soviet scientists have utilized the animal world for testing. Despite losses, these animals have taught the scientists a tremendous amount more than could have been learned without them. Without animal testing in the early days of the human space program, the Soviet and American programs could have suffered great losses of human life. These animals performed a service to their respective countries that no human could or would have performed. They gave their lives and/or their service in the name of technological advancement, paving the way for humanity’s many forays into space.”

That is how her article ends. And listen, she’s just a writer, so this isn’t directed at her, but to all the scientists involved in animal experimentations at present, stop it. Get help. Words like ‘utilized the animal world for testing’ can instead be replaced with ‘abused the animal world for testing’, because why sugar coat it. If you’re fine with abusing animals, then who am I to stop you? There are hints in the reports that some animals were recovered after a tipping point, but they were brought to those tipping points because of you. We still find it so easy to use living intelligent creatures like clay due to a morphed human-centric worldview of domination, but we have to stop. If you get a donkey to carry your bags for you, feed it a carrot. But if you strap 50 donkeys to a giant motor and whip then endlessly while feeding then pellets, well, it’s not the same thing. We can use animals in ways that don’t abuse them. But to abuse animals, like shocking their feet to learn, or just physically stuffing them in tiny compartments they quickly die in… it’s just not right in my eyes.

Do I find space fascinating? Yes. Do I want to go into space one day? Yeah! And part of that is grappling with the understanding that our spaceflight knowledge as a species comes off the back of so many dead primates. Would it something like advancing to other worlds where we as a collected species might do better at protecting other primates better, from ourselves, so is it just impossible to get everyone on the same page? I don’t know. But I hope it’s the former.

As we close out today’s video, I want to pass off a question. How do you guys feel about animal testing in general. Do you feel like we can move past it at this point? Do we have the technology to simulate what we would otherwise need test subjects for? Let me know. Thank you all as always for checking out my monke in review and until next time, sleep well fellow primates. Peace.

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