Ham the Chimp

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Ham fitted into a special biopack couch prior to flight to space.

Ham (July 1956 – January 19, 1983), also known as Ham the Chimp and Ham the Astrochimp, was the first chimpanzee launched into outer space in the American space program. Ham's name is an acronym for the lab that prepared him for his historic mission — the Holloman Aerospace Medical Center, located at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico.


Early life

Ham was born July 1956[1][2]:245 in Cameroon, captured by animal trappers and sent to Rare Bird Farm in Miami, Florida.[2]:245 He was purchased by the United States Air Force and brought to Holloman Air Force Base in 1959.[1]

There were originally 40 chimpanzee flight candidates at Holloman. After evaluation the number of candidates was reduced to 18, then to 6, including Ham.[2]:245-246 Officially, Ham was known as No. 65 before his flight, and only renamed "Ham" upon his successful return to earth. This was reportedly because officials did not want the bad press that would come from the death of a "named" chimpanzee if the mission were a failure. Among his handlers, No.65 had been known as Chop Chop Chang.[3][4]

Training and mission

The famous "hand shake" welcome. After his flight on a Mercury-Redstone rocket, chimpanzee Ham is greeted by the commander of the recovery ship, USS Donner (LSD-20).

Beginning in July 1959, the three-year-old chimpanzee was trained under the direction of neuroscientist Joseph V. Brady at Holloman Air Force Base Aero Medical Field Laboratory to do simple, timed tasks in response to electric lights and sounds.[5] In his pre-flight training, Ham was taught to push a lever within five seconds of seeing a flashing blue light; failure to do so resulted in an application of positive punishment in the form of a mild electric shock to the soles of his feet, while a correct response earned him a banana pellet.[6]:243

What differentiates Ham's mission from all the other primate flights to this point is that he was not merely a passenger, and the results from his test flight led directly to the mission Alan Shepard made on May 5, 1961 aboard Freedom 7.[citation needed]

On January 31, 1961, Ham was secured in a Project Mercury mission labeled MR-2 and launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a suborbital flight.[6]:314-315 Ham had his vital signs and tasks monitored using computers on Earth.[7] The capsule suffered a partial loss of pressure during the flight, but Ham's space suit prevented him from suffering any harm.[6]:315 Ham's lever-pushing performance in space was only a fraction of a second slower than on Earth, demonstrating that tasks could be performed in space.[6]:316 Ham's capsule splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean and was recovered by a rescue ship later that day.[6]:316 He only suffered a bruised nose.[7] His flight was 16 minutes and 39 seconds long.[8]

Later life

After the flight, Ham lived for 17 years in the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., then at the North Carolina Zoo before his death at the age of 26 on January 19, 1983.[2]:255-257 Ham appeared repeatedly on television, as well as on film with Evel Knievel.[2]:255

After his death in 1983, Ham's body was turned over to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology for necropsy. It was decided that the AFIP would retain Ham's skeleton for further study, and his body was cleaned of soft tissue by lengthy placement in the Dermestid beetle colony at the Smithsonian. Whatever remained, minus the skeleton, was transported to the International Space Hall of Fame in Alamogordo, New Mexico, and buried. The grave is marked by a memorial plaque. Ham's skeleton now resides in the AFIP's National Museum of Health and Medicine where it is kept and cared for alongside the skeletal remains of Civil War soldiers.[citation needed]

Ham's backup, Minnie, was the only female chimp trained for the Mercury program. After her role in the Mercury program ended, Minnie became part of an Air Force chimpanzee breeding program, producing nine offspring and helping to raise the offspring of several other members of the chimpanzee colony.[2]:258-259 The last surviving astro-chimp, she died at age 41 on March 14, 1998.[2]:259

Popular culture

See also


  1. ^ a b Gray, Tara (1998). "A Brief History of Animals in Space". National Aeronautics and Space Administration. http://history.nasa.gov/animals.html. Retrieved 2008-05-12.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Burgess, Colin; Chris Dubbs (2007) [2007-01-24]. Animals in Space: From Research Rockets to the Space Shuttle. Springer-Praxis Books in Space Exploration. Springer. ISBN 978-0-387-36053-9. OCLC 77256557.
  3. ^ Haraway, Donna. Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science (New York: Routledge, 1989), 138.
  4. ^ "The Nearest Thing", Time, 10 February 1961.
  5. ^ House, George (April-June 1991). "Project Mercury's First Passengers". Spacelog (Alamogordo, New Mexico: International Space Hall of Fame Foundation) 8 (2): 4–5. ISSN 10728171. OCLC 18058232.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Swenson Jr., Loyd S.; James M. Grimwood, Charles C. Alexander (1966). This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury. NASA History Series. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. OCLC 00569889. http://history.nasa.gov/SP-4201/toc.htm. Retrieved 2008-05-11.
  7. ^ a b Margaret G. Zackowitz (October 2007). "The Primate Directive". National Geographic Magazine. Archived from the original on 2007-11-12. http://web.archive.org/web/20071112094423/http://magma.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/2007-10/flashback.html. Retrieved 2008-04-30.
  8. ^ . "NASA Project Mercury Mission MR-2". National Aeronautics and Space Administration. http://science.ksc.nasa.gov/history/mercury/mr-2/mr-2.html. Retrieved 2008-05-11.
  9. ^ Space Cowboys at the Internet Movie Database
  10. ^ Race to Space at the Internet Movie Database
  11. ^ Space Chimps at the Internet Movie Database
  12. ^ http://www.portlandmercury.com/music/for-melville-with-love/Content?oid=868635

Further reading

External links