In the 1950s, the United States was rapidly advancing toward the
ultimate goal of manned space travel. To achieve this goal officials
used primates, rather then humans, as subjects in g-force, gravitational
and acceleration effects testing.
The use of primates as pre-manned space flight test subjects began in
1948 with the launch of a V-2 rocket carrying a Rhesus monkey named
Albert I. Fitted with electro-cardiogram sensors to
measure heart rate and a lever to measure respiratory function, Albert I
was injected with a muscle relaxant and placed inside the nose of the
V-2 rocket. The mission - to test not only heart and respiration effects
under launch conditions, but also to test and refine a parachute
Apparently just prior to launch, an Air Force wag wrote on
one of the V-2's fins, "alas poor Yorick, I knew him well," revealing
the expected fate of Albert I.
The launch of the V-2 rocket was successful, but the parachute system
did not deploy and the rocket was crushed upon impact. Telemetered
data for Albert I indicated no heart or respiratory functions during
the launch and investigators concluded that Albert I died before liftoff.
The investigators did note that had Albert I lived through the launch,
he would have died upon impact. This test was followed by dozens of
other tests all with similar results. Needless to say, without an
operational parachute system, the possibility of human rocket flight
on September 20, 1951 the Air Force launched and
biological payload - the monkey Yorick and eleven mice.
Unfortunately, Yorick died from heat exhaustion just two
hours after his flight. While Air Force personnel deemed
Yorick's flight a success, failure to keep the payload alive
post flight meant the Air Force had to continue
primate testing until they achieved a successful launch and recovery.
In May of 1952, the Air Force successfully launched, retrieved, and
kept alive two rhesus monkeys, Pat and Mike, and eleven mice.
The launch provided the Air Force with its first evidence that
primates (and mice) could not only survive a rocket launch, but
could survive the after effects of a launch and recovery.