July 16, 2024

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They suffocated, crashed, or came back alive: these were the first apes in space

They suffocated, crashed, or came back alive: these were the first apes in space

Image: Chimpanzee Enos laid the foundation for John Glenn’s historic spaceflight with her spacewalk around Earth. Credit: NASA.

In June 1948, the United States was the first to fire a missile at a primate. They brought the rhesus monkey Albert to an altitude of 63 kilometers on a V2 rocket.

At the time, little was known about the physiological effects of space travel. Some scientists have hypothesized that future astronauts’ cardiovascular systems would fail in microgravity, causing them to die almost instantly. The researchers wanted to launch some large animals into space to test how well they fared there.

The first monkey used for this purpose was Albert I in 1948. He suffocated during the flight and never reached actual space – the generally accepted upper limit of space is at an altitude of one hundred kilometers. In the following years, some monkeys were sacrificed for the same purpose.

Another rhesus monkey, named Albert II, became the first primate in space. On June 14, 1949, he reached an altitude of 134 kilometers aboard another V2 rocket. He survived the launch, but died during landing. His capsule was destroyed by a faulty parachute.

Albert III and IV died during their missions in late 1949, and Albert V also fell victim to a parachute failure in 1951. Albert VI, also known as Yorek, survived his flight in 1951, but only reached an altitude of 45 miles (72 km). ) – much less than a hundred kilometers.

Jurek died several hours after landing, possibly due to heat exhaustion in his cramped capsule while waiting for the rescue crew.

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New teacher: he came back alive

The United States achieved a landmark achievement in May 1959 when it finally returned two primates alive from space. Able’s rhesus monkey and Baker’s squirrel monkey reached an altitude of 483 kilometers on a Jupiter rocket and were found unharmed. Sadly, Abel died a few days later while undergoing surgery to remove an electrode from her skin.

As the human spaceflight program reached launch speed, the Americans began experimenting with chimpanzees. They are larger and more closely related to humans than other apes.

The United States launched the chimpanzee Ham on January 31, 1961. Ham reached an altitude of 253 kilometers during a 16.5-minute space flight, and was found unharmed – but slightly dehydrated. Buoyed by this success, Alan Shepard launched into a successful suborbital flight on May 5, 1961. The spacecraft is in space for a short period and returns before orbiting the Earth. This made him the first American – and the second person after the Soviet Union’s Yuri Gagarin – to go into space.

The chimpanzee Enos flew into Earth orbit on November 29, 1961, laying the foundation for John Glenn’s historic space flight on February 20, 1962. (Again, the United States arrived too late: Gagarin flew into Earth orbit on April 12, 1961.) )

After it became clear that humans could survive the rigors of space travel, the apes disappeared from the scene. The United States has continued to release animals for scientific experiments, but has shifted its focus to mice and insects that are easier to care for and take up less space. There were two squirrel monkeys aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger during the STS-51-B mission in April and May 1985.

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The Soviet Union, a rival to the United States in the space race, Dogs are mainly used in the lead-up to human launches. They believed that dogs would fidget less during flight than monkeys.

The Soviets launched their first dog in 1951. In November 1951, they were the first to put an animal – the famous Laika (“Plaver”) – into Earth orbit. Laika died during the flight.

Despite the focus on dogs, the Soviet Union and Russia later sent a number of rhesus monkeys into space in the 1980s and 1990s as part of the Pune Project. France also released two macaques in 1967.

This article previously appeared on American Scientific.

Translated by: Anneliese Adrianes