After the intensive tests with the V2 rockets in the early years of the 1950s, American scientist started aiming for a real trip to space. They finished assembly of the brand new rocket Jupiter AM-13 that was able to send its capsule to the altitude of over 300 miles. Their first test subject was a small squirrel monkey called Gordo. His 1958 journey into space was considered success even tough he died because of equipment failure during re-entry into Earths atmosphere.
On May 25, 1959 NASA launched another mission with two monkey passengers – male rhesus monkey Able and female squirrel monkey Baker. Goal of that mission was to closely monitor life signs, mental state and cabin environment of both monkeys and safely return them to Earth alive. Both monkeys were suited with special space suits that would protect them in case their capsule sustained any damage. Wide array of scientific equipment monitored their heart beat, body temperature, muscular reaction and rate of breathing. During the flight that lasted over 15 minutes, powerful Jupiter AM-13 raised both monkeys to the space traveling with speed over 10.000 miles per hour. Both monkeys enjoyed their ride, while Baker even almost fell asleep during their 9 minute period of weightlessness. The capsule landed in South Pacific with monkeys alive and well, some 1500 miles away from the Cape Canaveral launching center in Florida.
Success of this mission proved to the scientist that the manned mission to the space was indeed feasible. Monkeys survived period of weightlessness very well, and during re-entry they encountered G forces up to 38. One day after they returned Able died during a medical procedure when they tried to extract a sensor electrode that was implanted to him before the mission. Surviving monkey Miss Baker instantly became US national celebrity, appearing in wide variety of television programs and paper articles. She lived for another 24 years.
Even though they learned lot from this mission, NASA scientists were still not satisfied with the preparations for the human flight to space. Two year later in 1961 they launched first chimpanzee to space, in the attempt to finalize all technology and gather additional scientific data for the maiden flight of astronaut Alan Shepard.