February 21, 2012

Ham the Astrochimp

On the morning of January 31, 1961, a 5-year-old chimpanzee named “Ham” ate a breakfast of baby cereal, condensed milk, vitamins, and half an egg. Then the playful 37-pound primate went out into the Cape Canaveral light and made aeronautic history: Aboard a NASA space capsule — traveling almost 160 miles above the Earth — he became the first chimp in space.

The launch’s success helped ratchet up even further the already-frantic contest for scientific supremacy between the U.S. and the Soviet Union — and briefly made Ham something of a star. Five decades after that momentous, 16-minute “headlong trip through outer space’s underbelly” (as TIME characterized Ham’s flight), LIFE presents rare and previously unpublished photographs taken before, during, and after Ham’s wild ride — pictures that capture an era when technology, politics, ideology, and propaganda converged in an era-defining struggle known as the Space Race.

(Photographed by Ralph MorseTime & Life Pictures/Getty Images)


  1. From all the touching pictures on this site are those the most melancholic for me. For this animal, we are gods. Have we the right to do such things with other creatures?

  2. Mens did the same "things" and went to the Moon.



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