On this day in 1959, two monkeys became the first living creatures to survive a space flight. Able (pictured) a seven-pound female rhesus monkey, and Baker, a one-pound female squirrel monkey, were fired 300 miles into space in the nose cone of a Jupiter missile AM-18 from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The pair, who were weightless for nine minutes, were monitored throughout the flight for changes in their heartbeats, muscular reaction, pulse velocity, body temperature and rate of breathing. A spokesman from the Medical Research and Development Command of the US Army said the monkeys were in 'perfect condition' on their return. Data recorded throughout the flight will be analysed over the next two weeks.
The 15 minute flight reached speeds of up to 10,000 mph. The monkeys were recovered 1,500 miles away in the South Atlantic near Puerto Rico.
Although regarded as a success by space experts the mission attracted severe criticism from animal welfare groups. The American Embassy in London received protests from the League Against Cruel Sports and the Conference of Anti-Vivisection Societies, which is made up of 29 animal welfare groups. Strongest condemnation came from the League Against Cruel Sports who said, "Such action as this falls within the category of scientific devilry rather than scientific research." It added, "In the name of humanity we beg of you to drop these vile experiments."
Following their return, Able died from the effects of anesthesia given for the removal of electrodes implanted for the the historic mission. A subsequent post mortem examination revealed she had suffered no adverse effects from her flight into space. Baker survived a similar operation and lived until 1984,
The first animal sent into space was Laika, sent into orbit by the Russians, but days into the flight the dog died. Between 1957 and 1961 thirteen dogs were sent into space by the Russians, five of whom died. In 1958 an American squirrel monkey named Gordo died when a flotation device failed on landing. The first cat launched into space was Felix, who survived after being sent into space by the French. Since then animals including frogs, fish, crickets and even worms have been sent into space.