Able and Miss Baker: Remembering NASA’s Beloved Space Monkeys
(28 May 1959 was the first time NASA successfully send two Rhesus monkeys to space in the Space Race that raged during the Cold War. The Quint is reposting this article from its archives in honour of those pioneering space monkeys.)
In 1947, the USA sent fruit flies to space in an effort to study if living organisms could withstand a trip to outer space. The test was a success, and it kicked off a race between the USA and the USSR to send animals into space for research purposes.
After the USSR’s canine astronaut, Laika, died in a milestone space mission in 1957, it was the USA’s turn to prove their mettle. While the USSR experimented with dogs, the USA’s preferred monkeys. In 1959, NASA zeroed in on Able, a rhesus monkey, and Miss Baker, a squirrel monkey, as the perfect candidates to be sent into space on a short mission.
On 28 May 1959, the two tiny astronauts were secured in the nose cone of the Jupiter AM 18 missile. The craft reached an altitude of 360 miles and the monkeys were weightless for 9 minutes of their 16-minute flight, after which their capsules plunged into the ocean near Puerto Rico.
Upon their recovery from the ocean, the NASA arranged for a press conference. The monkeys were hailed the "first primates to travel to space and return home safely". The duo became overnight stars and were featured on the cover of Life magazine, among other media platforms.
However, Able died four days after the flight, after suffering a reaction to the anaesthesia she was administered for the mission. Miss Baker went on to live a full lifespan of 25 years. Her grave in Huntsvile, Alabama often sees bananas being offered, instead of flowers.