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To begin this story we need to jump to New Mexico and the desert near Alamogordo. Alamogordo is home to two of the most important sites for the development of the United States Space Program: White Sands Missile Range and Holloman Air Force Base. It was here that the initial tests took place. The earliest set of primate flights is what we will call the Albert series. The Alberts were monkeys, all of whom met unfortunate fates. They flew on V-2 rockets and in each of the four missions either the parachute didn't deploy or they died due to heat exhaustion after being lost somewhere in the desert. In a moment that summed up these early attempts at launching and recovering a biological payload, a technician at White Sands Missile Range scrawled the words "Alas poor Yorich I knew him well" on one of the fins to Albert I's V-2. Judging by the results, it seems like someone had a strong premonition of things to come.
While White Sands was taking care of the rocket launches, Holloman Air Force was using chimps in g-force research. The first question that needs to be asked is where did the chimps come from? The U.S. actually sent an expedition to Cameroon, Africa to get some baby chimps to train. Some stories claim the expedition was quite brutal and that the mothers were killed to get their babies. This is hard to confirm, but the story has survived through the oral history. There were two systems used for this; the Daisy sled and the rocket sled. The rocket sled was much faster and much more dangerous. They would load the chimps into a chair or capsule, blast them off, and then stop them in about 2 seconds using a water brake system. To say the least, not every chimp that rode the sled came out alive. It was also at Holloman that the chimps began their training for rocket flight. Both Ham and Enos were trained here and later launched at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
It wasn't until May 21, 1952 that White Sands successfully launched and recovered a living biological payload. The capsule carried two rhesus monkeys and two mice into the upper atmosphere and provided the Air Force with evidence that primates and other living creatures could survive such a trip.
Go to Chapter Three: Project Mercury...
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