Sam the Space Monkey
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.
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.