On This Day

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U.S. Army/AP
Monkey Able is shown being released from its life support capsule after a ride through space.

On This Day: Space Monkey Mission Succeeds

May 28, 2011 06:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On May 28, 1959, two female monkeys named Able and Baker became the first living creatures to survive a space flight.

Able and Baker Survive Space Flight

Two female primates, Able, a rhesus monkey, and Baker, a squirrel monkey, were launched into space in a Jupiter AM-18 missile, two years before any human male would make the same attempt.

The Able-Baker mission was conducted in order to test the effects of weightlessness. At the time, “one of the prevailing theories of the perils of space flight was that humans might not be able to survive long periods of weightlessness,” writes NASA.

Seven other experiments were sent into space with Able and Baker, including sea urchin eggs, human blood cells, yeast and onion skin cells, corn seeds, mustard seeds, mold spores and fruit fly larvae.

The two monkeys were placed into small cushioned restraints and placed in the nose cone of the missile. They flew 10,000 mph at 300 miles above the earth during their 15-minute space flight, becoming the “first two living beings to survive a space flight,” writes Mental Floss.

Background: The Space Race

ABC News furnishes a timeline of “How the space race unfolded.” Key events are listed, beginning with the October 1957 Soviet launch of Sputnik I, and continuing through the launch of the shuttle Discovery in July 2005.

NASA provides a summary of the history of animals in space, citing individual monkeys, chimps and dogs launched into space by American and Russian scientists in the 1940s, ’50s and ‘60s, “in order to test each country’s ability to launch a living organism into space and bring it back alive and unharmed.” Able and Baker are included.

The Institute of Experimental Pathology and Therapy is in Sukhumi, Abkhazia, once part of the former Soviet Union, and the world’s first primate testing center. “Once the envy of the West,” the institute has long been deteriorating, writes The Independent, but it was once “at the forefront of groundbreaking medical discoveries, and trained monkeys for space travel.”

Life After Space for Able and Baker

Soon after the flight and after Able met with press in Washington, an Army doctor noticed that an electrode inserted under Able’s skin had become slightly infected. An operation promptly followed with use of trichloroethylene, a general anesthetic, but Able died during the procedure, reported Time. Plans were made for her body to be stuffed and exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

On Nov. 30, 1984, Baker died of kidney failure at age 27. She weighed just 14 ounces.

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