31st Day of January

1961 – Ham the Chimp travels into outer space

Ham (July 1957 – January 19, 1983), also known as Ham the Chimp and Ham the Astrochimp, was a chimpanzee and the first hominid launched into space.

Beginning in July 1959, the two-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.

During 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 a light electric shock to the soles of his feet, while a correct response earned him a banana pellet.

1961 – Ham the Chimp travels into outer space

On January 31, 1961, Ham was secured in a Project Mercury mission designated MR-2 and launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a suborbital flight.

Ham’s vital signs and tasks were monitored by sensors and 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.

Extra Note: Ham’s flight of 16 minutes and 39 seconds and the capsule splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean and was recovered by a rescue ship later that day, his only physical injury was a bruised nose.

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