The true story about space monkeys

23 marzo 2007

Between 1948 and 1970, upto 32 monkeys were trained and sent to space in order to investigate the biological effects of space travel. Most of them, litlle rhesus and squirrel monkeys, died of suffocation, collision or a failure of the parachute. Another group, the monkeys wich never travelled to space, were injured or killed in tests conducted by the U.S. Air Force (USAF) as part of the Air & Space Research program. Some of those veterans survived and live today in a Florida Refuge. This is the story:

The military’s relationship with the chimps began in the 1950s, when the U.S. Air Force collected more than 100 chimpanzees from Africa. More than 65 of them were shipped to Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico to undergo tests on the effects of space flight.

The chimps were exposed to adverse conditions in order to make space travel possible. The tests included spinning the chimps in a giant centrifuge, exposing them to powerful G-Forces, and measuring how long it took one of the animals to lose consciousness in a decompression chamber. Strapped into small capsules, they were spun, jettisoned, and catapulted on track courses. During those years some of the monkeys were literally used as crash test dummies. According to some sources, some of the capsules were designed to accelerate to speeds of 400 miles per hour before coming to an abrupt halt. A sudden stop at such high speeds caused the chimpanzee’s brain to literally smash against the skull, resulting in massive trauma and death.

In 1961, three months before Alan B. Shepard became the first U.S. astronaut to travel in space, an American chimpanzee named Ham rocketed beyond the earth’s atmosphere in a Mercury capsule. Ten months later, another chimp, named Enos, successfully orbited the earth. But once America made it to space, the chimps were no longer of any use, so the Air Force began leasing its chimp colony to medical laboratories.

Since 1970, more than a hundred of the chimps were awarded to the Couston Foundation, a toxicology lab in New Mexico that used chimps in AIDS and hepatitis experiments. The chimps were poked, injected with diseases and operated. Many lived for several decades in small cages, and most of them became sick and depressed.

Fortunately, Dr. Carole Noon thought that the captive chimps deserve better and sued the Air Force for custody, with the help of some important primatologists. After a year-long court battle, Noon gained permanent custody of 21 chimps, survivors of the "chimpanaut" program, and founded “Save the Chimps”.

Since 1997, the vision of Save the Chimps was - and remains - to create a Sanctuary where rescued chimpanzees can live out their lives without the threat of ever returning to a laboratory. These chimpanzees, who once had the "right stuff" for the space program, are now free to live out their lives in a more natural, peaceful environment. However- and that's for sure - they will never be able to forget the nightmare of those Space years.

More info and sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8