Before humans were launched into space, many animals were propelled heavenwards to pave the way for mankind's pioneering endeavours. These original pioneers, including numerous monkeys, served their nations in order to investigate the biological effects of space travel.
Perhaps the most famous animal astronaut is Laika, the Soviet space dog who made her historic flight on November 3, 1957. The United States preferred to use monkeys for its missions and launched numerous monkey flights primarily between 1948 and 1961 paving the way for manned missions.
Thirty-two monkeys flew in the space program; each had only one mission. Numerous back-up monkeys also went through the programs but never flew. Monkeys from several species were used, including rhesus monkeys, cynomolgus monkeys, and squirrel monkeys, as well as pig-tailed macaques.
The Key Players
There were many monkey pioneers all of who are owed a debt of gratitude for paving the way for space exploration. Three in particular are worthy of mention: Albert I, the original space monkey pioneer; Miss Baker, first lady of space; and Gordo, affectionately known as 'old reliable'. Read more about them below.
Gordo was one of the first monkeys to make it into space as part of NASA's space program. Eight monkeys had flown on NASA missions before him, five of whom went by the name of Albert. Read more.
Miss Baker and fellow female pioneer Able's historic flight on May 28, 1959 proved a turning point in the US space era. The first beings ever to be recovered alive from a flight into outer space, their journey paved the way for putting the first man into orbit around the earth. Read more.
On June 11, 1948, Albert I - the first monkey astronaut - launched into space on a V-2 Blossom III rocket from White Sands Proving Ground, a NASA space station in New Mexico. The first of four monkeys (Albert I-IV) launched into space between June 1948 and December 1949, Albert was the original monkey pioneer. Read more.