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    Ham the Astrochimp

    Ham the Astrochimp was the first chimpanzee launched into space in the American space program.

    Beginning in July 1959, the three-year-old chimpanzee was trained at an Air Force Base to do simple, timed tasks in response to electric lights and sounds.  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 punishment in the form of a mild electric shock to the soles of his feet, while a correct response earned him a banana pellet.

    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.

    On January 31, 1961, Ham was secured in a Project Mercury mission labeled MR-2 and launched from Cape Canaveral on a suborbital flight.  Ham had his vital signs and tasks monitored using computers on Earth. The capsule suffered a partial loss of pressure during the flight, but Ham's space suit prevented him from suffering any harm.  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.  Ham's capsule splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean and was recovered by a rescue ship later that day.  He only suffered a bruised nose.  His flight was 16 minutes and 39 seconds long.



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