VSL:SCIENCE // American astronauts as you’ve never seen them before

Fifty years ago, NASA fired two of its first astronauts — a rhesus monkey named Mr. Able and a squirrel monkey named Miss Baker — into space.

The monkeys took a 15-minute, 360-mile-high cruise, splashed down in the Atlantic, and were whisked away to a Washington press conference. A year later, two rhesus monkeys helped test the launch-escape system in the Mercury capsules. And in early 1961, a chimp named Ham flew a dress rehearsal for Alan Shepard’s first Mercury mission. (You can see these monkeys and chimps, and a half-dozen others, in National Geographic’s online gallery.) Although Mr. Able died from a postflight infection, most of the animals survived — proof that humans aren’t the only primates with the right stuff.

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