Today I’d like to share an amusing photograph from the early days of space exploration. This is Ham the Chimpanzee.
His name comes from the laboratory that trained him for his mission: the Holloman Aerospace Medical Center. That’s important to know because Ham’s training is a key part of his story.
Ham was not just another confused and frightened animal strapped into a rocket and launched into space (though it sounds like he was definitely very frightened during his trip). Ham had a mission. He had a job to do during his flight. And he did it.
Specifically, Ham was trained to push a lever when he saw a flashing blue light. During training, he was rewarded with a banana pellet if he did his job correctly (he was also punished with electric shocks if he did his job incorrectly).
Ham’s success was significant because it proved that even under the physical stresses of space flight, it is possible to respond to visual stimuli and perform basic tasks. A human astronaut would therefore be able to operate the controls of a spacecraft during flight, which was an important thing for NASA to know in the early days of space exploration.
P.S.: I assume human astronauts are still rewarded with banana pellets when they do a good job (and also punished with mild electric shocks when they do their jobs incorrectly).
Ham (Chimpanzee) from Wikipedia.
A Brief History of Animals in Space from NASA.
Ham the Astrochimp: Hero or Victim? from The Guardian.