During the late 1950s NASA scientist were starting to develop test versions of their Mercury space capsule that was intended to carry human astronauts to space. One of those test programs carried name Little Joe and was intended to test electronic equipment, capsule living environment and to measure strong gravitational forces during acceleration that would be present during the flight. Little Joe rockets were designed to be easily produced, carried small cargo and were capable to achieve the altitude of 60 miles.
Mission called Little Joe 2 was scheduled to be launched on December 4, 1959 and in its capsule it carried small rhesus monkey called Sam. He was placed in specially created chair and restraint that would help future astronauts to better handle acceleration forces that would be present during the rockets launch and capsule re-entry into Earths atmosphere. Protective harness that Sam wore was designed in a way that his hands were able to move, thus enabling the future astronauts to work with their equipment during the flight.
After the launch Little Joe 2 flew 11 minutes until landing into Atlantic Ocean 194 miles away from the launching site in Wallops Island, Virginia. During re-entry into Earths atmosphere capsule successfully launched its secondary parachute at the 20,000ft and main parachute at 10,000ft. It achieved the altitude of 55 miles, 3 minutes of weightlessness and during launch monkey Sam experienced force 19 times that of normal gravity. First examination of the monkey showed that he was in a good shape and he did not receive any negative effect from this flight.
Low cost of the Little Joe rocket gave the NASA scientist opportunity to send over seven unmanned rockets to the space from 1959 to April 1961. Parts of the Capsule from the Little Joe 2 mission are today displayed at the Airpower Park and Museum in Hampton, Virginia.