Feb. 1, 1961: U.S. sends chimp into space

Before astronauts Alan Shepherd and Neil Armstrong, there was Ham — a 37-pound pioneer of manned space flight who became the first chimp to complete a mission into space.

The Herald ran this story upon his return:

“Ham, the amiable space chimp, arrived home by plane today some 25 hours after pioneering a jolting rocket trip a bit out of this world.

He is due for thorough check-ups to learn if there are any danger signals against man going into space. Ham, the largest animal to make a sub-orbital flight, touched down at 1:11 p.m. aboard a C131 Air Force plane which brought him here from Grand Bahama Island.

He was fished from the sea Tuesday after his rocket ride carrying home 155 miles high and 420 miles downrange into the south Atlantic.

Ham came home to a bright, lovely day.

The pilot reported Ham is ‘happy, he looks very happy.’ “

It was a grin biologist Jane Goodall would later interpret as “the most extreme fear” and a historic flight that would raise questions of cruelty but, back then, people were asking only what it meant for the future of space travel.

Here’s what the story said:

“1. It indicates manned space flight is feasible. An American astronaut is scheduled this spring to duplicate Ham’s daring flight.

2. The Soviets appear likely to win the race to be first to orbit a man around the earth.

3. A very slight mis-firing in the rocket system hurling out Ham’s capsule may well require further tests with or without a chimp aboard before a man goes up. But this also produced valuable dividends.

4. Ham himself is reported in excellent shape, a smart 37 pounds of amiability.”

Read more from The Herald’s Feb. 1, 1961, issue and others in our collection of historic front pages.

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