In the early years of the U.S./Soviet space race American scientist decided that final flight test before manned mission must be conducted with chimpanzees. Since 1948 US sent more than dozen monkeys to space where they tested influences of that harsh environment on a living animal, because they did not known if human pilot can operate complex tasks inside his capsule. Weightlessness, extreme G-forces, radiation, all those factors made the scientist to start thinking about planning mission with a chimpanzee.
From the testing facility with 40 chimpanzees they selected 8 best candidates and started them on a heavy training regiment. Their goal was to launch them in space and observe while they perform various tasks (flipping switches around them). From the 8 candidates, Ham was selected as the most suitable. He was trained to press the buttons in front of his chair every time he saw blue blinking light. Also, he was suited with special space suit that had the same properties as the upcoming maiden flight of astronaut Alan Shepard. After more than a year of training Ham was chosen for this crucial mission, which was named MR-2.
On January 31, 1961 Ham the Chimp was launched from the Cape Canaveral space center on a 17 minutes long suborbital flight. During that time he reached the altitude of 157 miles, speed of 5857 mhp, and had six minutes of weightlessness. Ham preformed perfectly, responding to the blue lights as intended. During his return capsule suffered loss of atmosphere but his special space suit saved his life. Success of this mission paved the way for the successful launch of the Alan Shepard’s first American human manned mission on May 5, 1961. At the end of 1961 another rocket went to space, this time carrying chimp called Enos. He successfully orbited around the earth.
Ham the Chimp became instant celebrity when he returned from his space mission. He appeared on several US television programs, TV shows and several documentary films following events of his mission. He spent rest of his life in Washington, D.C National Zoo and North Carolina Zoo until his death on January 19, 1983.