The chimpanzee Ham and the feat of tracing the way to space | Digital Trends Spanish


Hominids ruled the earth before us, and they certainly paved our way into space. The feat, without which today we would not speak of human colonies on the Moon or on Mars, was achieved by a chimpanzee named Ham on January 31, 1961 – 60 years ago – when he traveled through space aboard the Mercury Redstone spacecraft. for 16 minutes. With his journey, Ham was 10 weeks ahead of the first human to reach space, Yuri Gagarin. Quite a feat that earned the historic chimpanzee an honorable retreat at the Washington Zoo.

But if Ham’s historic journey, named after the acronym formed by the name of the laboratory that trained him (Holloman Aeromedical), lasted just 16 minutes, the training that led him to fulfill his promise lasted about two years. Through pure operant conditioning, Ham learned to control basic but key aspects of the capsule that took him into space.

The launch took place on Tuesday, January 31, 1961 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, which years later would become an iconic platform. And while successful, the takeoff had a setback that added an unexpected level of difficulty to Ham’s mission. A technical glitch brought him to a height and speed just over 30 percent of predicted, so that Ham soared to 253,000 meters at a speed of 9,426 kilometers per hour. In space, Ham experienced 6.6 minutes of weightlessness.

On his return, Ham splashed into the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. As is now the case with astronaut landings, a ship came to their rescue. He was alive, though dehydrated and tired, but above all, with the feat of having been, at that time, the most human-like terrestrial organism to have left Earth.

Ham retired two years later after completing endless medical and scientific studies. His resting place was the Washington Zoo, where he was transferred in 1963. By 1980, he was transferred to the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro, where he died in January 1983.

The remains of the historic Ham are found on the International Space Walk of Fame in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Next to his remains there is a plaque on which, in the name of humanity, he is thanked for having traced the path that just a few months later would follow the cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and the astronaut Alan Shepard.

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