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A Little Background...
This site is about the primate flights, but most didn't fall under Project Mercury (please go to the section "Primate Missions" for more on those flights). Before the Mercury 7 astronauts would be determined, NASA was using animal astronauts in Project Mercury launches. The first Project Mercury animal launch came on December 4, 1959. The rhesus monkey Sam was launched on the Little Joe II. His mission was a success and he was successfully recovered.
Sam would be the only primate launched during Project Mercury until 1961. But what was going on behind to scenes would prove to be most interesting. The chimps brought back from Cameroon were shipped to Holloman Air Force Base for training. It was in New Mexico that they would be prepared for space. It is said that the chimps were subjected to training that their human counterparts couldn't have completed. In his book "The Right Stuff," Tom Wolfe speaks about the terrible abuse these chimpanzees were subjected to. They would spend hours sitting in chairs and hitting levers. One article announced that the chimps were difficult to train because they were so much like humans.
It is here that we must consider the ethical questions being raised and the inconsistencies that are obvious. We choose chimpanzees, man's closest living relative, as test subjects because they are so much like us. We justify their use in experimentation based on the idea that they are so similar. We train them like humans, dress them like humans, and basically humanize them as best as possible. But then we say they aren't human so we can do what we like with them. This seems a bit inconsistent. We can say that they are different because they share only 98.6% of the same DNA structure. It could also be said that there is only a 1.6% difference.
The past can't be changed, so we should recognize the contributions of these chimpanzees and monkeys. In addition, we need to question whether history should repeat itself as it seems to be doing.
To say the least, their training was tough. But with their training complete, the next step for the space chimps was to take place in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The stage was now set for the U.S. space program to take a big step towards the goals of Project Mercury.
Go to Chapter Four: One Small Step...
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