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


Ham's liftoff on the MR-2
In 1959, a chimpanzee named Ham (Holloman Aero Medical )was captured in Africa and shipped to Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Ham was assigned to Holloman's Aeromedical Lab and trained to participate in NASA's Mercury Program. Specifically, Ham was trained to operate a relatively simple control panel for use during a Mercury Redstone sub-orbital flight.

Ham in training

The console, based on a discrete avoidance system, consisted of three levers and three lights. Ham was taught to engage a specific lever in accordance with a specific light and to do so within 15 seconds. If he did not engage the lever in the allotted time or engaged an incorrect lever, he was shocked on the bottom of his foot. For correct answers the console supplied a banana pellet.

Ham was a very affectionate, cuddly, and aptly named chimp. According to his trainer Mr. Edward Dittmer,

"...I think...I know he liked me. I'd hold him and he was just like a little kid. He'd
put his arm around me and he'd play, you know.
He was a well tempered chimp."

Ham is relaxed Ham was three years old when he was officially selected as one of the possible chimps for the MR-2 sub-orbital mission. He and five other chimps were shipped to Cape Canaveral, Florida on January 2, 1961. About 48 hours prior to launch, Ham was selected as the chimp for the mission and on January 31, 1962, he was fitted into a hermetically sealed couch, placed in the Mercury capsule, and loaded atop a Redstone rocket. Countdown to launch proceeded, the boosters engaged, and at 11:54 a.m. Ham was sent rocketing into outer space.

The lift off and entry into space went smoothly but at T+2 minutes and 18 seconds the Redstone escape rocket fired too soon and acceleration increased to 17.0 g's - about 10 g's more then anticipated at that time. Despite the increased speed Ham performed his required tasks with great accuracy during the 16 and a half minute, 363 nautical mile sub-orbital flight.

During re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere the Mercury capsule overheated but telemetry assured the ground monitors that Ham was okay. He plunged deep into the Atlantic Ocean, was recovered at 3:40 p.m., E.S.T., and taken to a waiting recovery vessel. Ham was given a physical examination and was pronounced fatigued but medically sound.

After his examination, Ham was photographed by Air Force and NASA personnel. He appears to be grinning, happy with the anticipation of an apple. A few days after his flight NASA personnel tried to get Ham back into his flight couch for press photos - he wouldn't go near it.

Ham is not happy

"Actually, that is the most extreme fear that I've ever seen on any chimpanzee." Jane Goodall in an interview for One Small Step.

One Small Step Early History Ham Enos Roll Call CCCC

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