History of animals on space is a long one, and big part of that history is made by monkeys. Animal research beyond Earth’s orbit began during 1940’s and during that time there were much unknowns about what will happen to the live animals and plants in the harshness of space. First experiments were focused on the smaller animals like mice, flies and Soviet Union elected to mainly test the influence of space on dogs (most famous one being Laika in 1957).
American space agency NASA focused their research on monkeys. Monkeys had very similar body structure to us humans and were easily trained to perform several tasks during the flight. That training was one of the crucial parts of those experiments, because scientists of that time did not yet understand what influence space radiation and weightlessness have on a human body.
First monkeys that USA launched in upper layers of the Earths orbit rode V2 rockets, with Albert leading the way on June 14, 1949 and reaching the height of 39 miles. Next three monkeys (Albert II-IV) were also launched during that year but sadly every one of them died from technical errors in their spacecraft. Albert II reached the height if 83 miles, effectively exiting the earth orbit and entering into space. In April 1951 NASA started next wave of monkey testing with new Aerobee rockets. Albert V died from parachute failure, but in September Albert VI and his 11 mice crewmates managed for the first time to successfully return alive to the Earths surface. Sadly Albert VI died from overheating while waiting the arrival of capsule recovery ream.
In the final preparations before NASA’s manned human flight several more monkeys were launched to space. Monkey called Gordo was launched in 1958 with Jupiter AM-13 rocket but failure with his capsule parachute killed him on re-entry. In May 1959 two monkeys Able (rhesus monkey) and Miss Baker (squirrel monkey) successfully returned from the trip in witch they reached the altitude of 360 miles and have experienced about nine minutes of weightlessness. Able died few days later in a surgery, but Baker lived for another 25 years. Before Yuri Gagarin's and American Alan Shepard’s mission NASA elected to launch one last test flight with the chimpanzee Ham. His mission was different from the previous flights, for he was trained to actively move during the flight and flip various switches around him. After 16 minute flight on January 31, 1961, Ham successfully returned to earth splashing his capsule in the Atlantic Ocean.
After the first American human flight another monkey called Enos lived trough his mission where he successfully orbited the earth. In the later years NASA sent several more monkeys to space, most notably Goliath in 1961 (died on landing), Bonny in 1969 (first multi-day monkey mission, also died at landing) and two squirrel monkeys in 1985 Space Shuttle mission.
There are three other countries that sent monkeys into space. Soviet Union sent about a dozen monkeys between 1983 and 1997. First mission in 1983 involved two monkeys Abrel amd Biom. Other monkeys followed them trough the years, all with their names starting with next letter from the Russian alphabet. Last Soviet monkey mission happened from December 24, 1996 to January 7, 1997 with two monkeys Lapik and Multik. They both survived the trip, but Multik died day after return during medical surgery.
Argentina and France both sent monkeys to the altitude near space border. In March 1967 France sent two rocket on the height of 145 and 150 miles carrying two monkeys Martine and Pierette. Argentina launched monkey on height of 60 kilometers, and year later another one to the greater altitude but this capsule was lost due the malfunctioning parachute.
After Lapik and Multik’s last mission to space in 1997 no other country used monkeys in space testing and research. American Air Force disbanded their chimp research facility on the same year. Many of the remaining chimps from that base were relocated to various animal shelters and sanctuaries.