John Glenn Ham Life

Chimpanzees Paved the Way for John Glenn

Space Hero John Glenn Dies at 95

Today marked the death of John Glenn. Born on July 18th, 1921, Glenn went on to become a Marine pilot and in 1959 was selected for the Mercury astronaut training program. In 1962 he was the first American man to orbit the earth, circling it 3 times.  He famously commented, “I don’t know what you can say about a day when you see four beautiful sunsets…this is a little unusual, I think.” In 1998 at the age of 77,  he made his second trip into space onboard the Space Shuttle, helping NASA learn what effects space had on older people. John Glenn lived a long and full life and passed away on December 8th at the age of 95.


Astrochimp Ham

While John Glenn was certainly a space pioneer, his predecessor was an intelligent and brave chimpanzee named Ham. Ham the Astrochimp was actually the first nonhuman ape in space at just three years of age. Ham was wild caught in Cameroon in 1957 and shipped to a Florida Bird Farm before the United States Air Force purchased him and the two-year-old chimpanzee was sent to Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico in 1959. Along with approximately 40 other chimpanzees, they would compete in a series of training tests. Known simply as No. 65, the chimpanzee took part in evaluation after evaluation until he was one of six potential primates to fly. In the following video, you can see the fear grimace on Ham’s face–imagine how frightening it must have been for this young, 3-year-old chimpanzee to be out confined traveling in space all by himself. Watch: The Story Of Ham: 1st Chimp In Space.


Enos Orbits the Earth

While John Glenn was the first human astronaut to orbit the earth, it was Chimpanzee Enos that paved the way. Purchased from the same Florida Bird Park in 1960, he would complete more than 1,250 training hours before his space launch. Enos was the first chimpanzee to orbit the Earth. However, there was a dark side to Enos mission. As the Atlantic Monthly reported, “Few remember the second chimp launched into space by the United States. Even fewer remember the terrible equipment malfunction that subjected the animal to 76 electric shocks in orbit.” (Atlantic Monthly)


Chimpanzees in Research

Ham spent 17 years at the National Zoo in Washington D.C. before moving to a North Carolina Zoo where he died in 1983 at the age of 25. His remains were buried in the International Space Hall of Fame. Enos died of dysentry less than a year after his return from space. The whereabouts of his remains are unknown.

These were two of many chimpanzees used in research to discover the effects of space on human biology. Some of the surviving Air Force chimpanzees retired into sanctuary at Save The Chimps, and others and their decedents remain at Alamogordo Primate Facility in New Mexico. For more information read One Small Step: The Story of Space Chimps.