Ham, the first primate astronaut

2018-01-11

in Bombs and rockets, History, Politics, Science, Space and flight

Then they led him out again, trying to get him near a mockup of a Mercury capsule, where the television networks had set up cameras and tremendous lights. The reporters and photographers surged forward again, yammering, yelling, exploding more camera lights, shoving, groaning, cursing—the usual yahoo sprawl, in short—and the animal came unglued again, ready to twist the noodle off anybody he could get his hands on. This was interpreted by the Gent [the news media] as a manifestation of Ham‘s natural fear upon laying eyes once again on the capsule, which looked precisely like the one that had propelled him into space and subjected him to such severe physical stresses.

The stresses the ape was reacting to were probably of quite another sort. Here he was, back in the compound where they had zapped him through his drills for a solid month. Just two years ago he had been captured in the jungles of Africa, separated from his mother, shipped in a cage to a goddamned desert in New Mexico, kept prisoner, prodded and shocked by a bunch of humans in white smocks, and here he was, back in a compound where they had been zapping him through their fucking drills for a solid month, and suddenly there was a whole new mob of humans on hand! Even worse than the white smocks! Louder! Crazier! Totally out of their gourds! Yammering, roaring, brawling, exploding lights beside their bug-eyed skulls! Suppose they threw him to these assholes! Fuck this—

At some point in the madhouse scene out back of Hanger S, a photograph was taken in which Ham was either grinning or had on a grimace that looked like a grin in the picture. Naturally, this was the picture that went out over the wire services and was printed in newspapers throughout America. Such was the response of the happy chimpanzee to being the first ape in outer space … A fat happy grin… Such was the perfection with which the Proper Gent observed the proprieties.

Wolfe, Tom. The Right Stuff. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux; New York. 1979. p. 223–4 (italics and ellipses in original)

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

alena January 13, 2018 at 7:55 am

What a sad story this us. I remember going to NIH once with a professor from my pre-med program and he showed me a laboratory where they carried out experiments on monkeys. I will never forget it. Yet I can see why it may be necessary to help find cures for humans.

. January 14, 2018 at 8:02 pm

“By the beginning of November, twenty veterinarians had moved into Hanger S at the Cape with five chimpanzees. One of them was Ham, thinner and more strung out than ever but still an ace in the procedures trainer, his life dedicated to the avoidance of invisible volts. Ham was not regarded as the pick of the lot, however. The brightest and quickest member of the colony was a male who had been brought from Africa to Holloman Air Force Base in April of 1960, when he was about two and a half years old. He was known as Number 85. Number 85 has fought the veterinarians and the process of operant conditioning like a Turkish prisoner of war. He fought them with his hands, his feet, his teeth, his saliva, and his cunning. He would shake off each jolt of electricity and give them a hideous grin. When he couldn’t take the shocks any more, he would cooperate temporarily, and his hands would fly across the procedures trainer console like E. Power Bigg’s at the organ—and then he would turn on the vets, making another desperate thrash toward freedom. He was like the slave who wouldn’t break. Finally, they shut him up inside a metal box and let him thrash about in there for a week with his feces and urine for company. When they let him out, he was, at last, a different ape. He had had enough. He didn’t want any more of the box. His operant conditioning could now begin in earnest. The box was certainly not the course the good vets at Holloman would have chosen, had the times been normal.”

p. 301–2

alena January 16, 2018 at 11:08 pm

That is even sadder. What is this book about?

. January 16, 2018 at 11:21 pm

The Right Stuff is a 1979 book by Tom Wolfe about the pilots engaged in U.S. postwar research with experimental rocket-powered, high-speed aircraft as well as documenting the stories of the first Project Mercury astronauts selected for the NASA space program. The Right Stuff is based on extensive research by Wolfe, who interviewed test pilots, the astronauts and their wives, among others. The story contrasts the “Mercury Seven” and their families with test pilots such as Chuck Yeager, who was considered by many contemporaries as the best of them all, but who was never selected as an astronaut.

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