One Small Step...the story of the space chimps
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.
IS THIS THE WAY WE REWARD OUR SPACE
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
at the University of Florida.
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