May 29, 2009
On May 28, 1959, a rhesus monkey named Able, plucked from a zoo in Independence, Kansas, and a squirrel monkey named Baker, made history as the first mammals to survive space flight.
Strapped into specially-designed couches inside a Jupiter missile nose cone, Able and Baker flew 300 miles above the surface of the earth reaching speeds more than 10,000 miles per hour.
Animals had been sent into space before. In 1957, two years before the monkeys’ flight, the Soviets watched Laika, the space dog, orbit around the Earth. She did not survive.
But Able and Baker did, and their survival was evidence that mammals, even humans, could safely travel through space. Two years later, in 1961, Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet, became the first person in space, making a 108-minute orbital flight in his Vostok 1 spacecraft.
Unfortunately, a few days after the historic flight, Able did not survive surgery to remove an infected electrode from under her skin. Her body was preserved and is now on view at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum.
Able recently found new life as a star in Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. She and partner-in-mischief Dexter, a capuchin monkey from the first Night at the Museum movie, can be seen testing security guard Larry Daley’s patience with some slapstick comedy.
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