One Small Step...the story of the space chimps

One Small Step

Early History



Roll Call



JSC Image Collection

Johnson Space Center

Kennedy Space Center

National Archives

Center for Captive Chimpanzee Care

Documentary Institute

One Small Step... the story of the space chimps

In 1948, the United States Air Force began experimenting with rocket technology with the goal of putting a human into space. Not wanting to jeopardize human life in the experimental tests, the Air Force opted to use primates. In 1952, the Air Force successfully launched and retrieved a living payload - two rhesus monkeys and 11 mice. The next tests - specific gravity effects, radiation effects, and motor skill operation during flight conditions - would require a more human like being. The Air Force turned to man's closest living relative: the chimpanzee.

In 1959 the Air Force, in conjunction with a newly formed NASA, obtained a group of infant chimpanzees from Africa. The chimps were shipped to Holloman Air Force Base and then began hundreds of hours of training on the control panels they would use during sub-orbital or orbital flights.

On the 31st of January in 1961, a three year old chimp named Ham rocketed into outer space and successfully completed a sub-orbital mission. Ham's mission set the stage for Alan Shepard's triumphant sub orbital flight on June 16, 1961 and propelled the United States a step closer in the quest for manned orbital flight.

In November 1961, the five year old chimp Enos blasted into outer space, orbited the Earth twice, and landed alive and well in the Atlantic Ocean. Enos' flight put the United States and NASA one more small step closer to manned orbital flight and paved the way for John Glenn's momentous three orbit journey.

While Ham and Enos received world wide attention, their triumphs were quickly forgotten once their human counterparts achieved space travel. Also forgotten was the remaining 141-strong astro-chimp colony until a 1997 Air Force announcement that the chimps would be "retired" from the space program. Thirty of the chimponauts were retired to a primate sanctuary. One hundred and eleven chimps were not "retired" but given to a biomedical research facility to be used for experimental testing.


Through archival footage, photos and documents, One Small Step will take the viewer on a compelling journey through the first days of primate space travel. Through current documents and footage, the project will examine the status of the remaining chimponaut colony who unwillingly sacrificed so much in the name of space exploration.

Available in May, 2002
A Kristin Davy-David Cassidy Production
Produced in conjunction with the Documentary Institute at the University of Florida.

One Small Step Early History Ham Enos Roll Call CCCC

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