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Where Are They Now?

    With the space chimp colony no longer needed, the Air Force began leasing them to medical labs in the 1970s. The chimps spent time in New York and at New Mexico State University. Then, in 1997, the Air Force announced that they would be "retiring" the space chimps forever. To the Air Force, "retirement" meant giving the chimps to a medical testing facility for further experimentation.

    Being a government entity, the Air Force had to follow certain protocol. First they declared the chimps "surplus" and then opened them up for bid. The Air Force proceeded to award the chimps to a biomedical testing facility, The Coulston Foundation. The bid process came into question and it became evident that the Air Force had little intention to consider any other facility. A bit of outrage ensued due to The Coulston Foundations track record of abusing chimps. Over the years, USDA investigations found them negligible and at one point confiscated 300 of their chimps due to poor care. The first round was voided and a second round of bids were taken. Many people in government and former astronauts asked for these chimps to go to sanctuary. They didn't want to see the Air Force make the same mistake twice.

    It was now that Dr. Carole Noon, who with the backing of Dr. Jane Goodall and Dr. Roger Fouts, would try to see these chimpanzees to sanctuary. The Air Force denied her bid on the basis that she didn't have a facility built yet. Instead the Air Force again awarded a bulk of the chimps to The Coulston Foundation. In what they felt was a show of good faith, the Air Force sent 30 of the remaining chimps to a sanctuary in Texas.

    While some thought the story ended there, Dr. Noon felt differently. Operating under her belief that captive chimps deserve something better than a life in a lab, she took action. Noon sued the Air Force for custody and raised funds to build a sanctuary in Florida. After a year long court battle, Dr. Noon was awarded custody of 21 of the space chimps. Some of whom were members of the original colony. Today, she operates the Center for Captive Chimpanzee Care. It is a place where these chimps can enjoy the outdoors and a life free of testing. For the remaining members of the colony still in a lab, only time will tell if they will ever experience freedom.

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