Fifty years ago today a brave explorer strapped himself in on top of a rocket and tore ass all the way into space.
That brave explorer was Ham the Chimp, who beat Yuri Gagarin into space by a couple of months and who did what Laika the Space Dog couldn’t do - namely, come back to Earth alive.
Ham wasn’t the first animal into space, and he wasn’t even the first primate, but he was special. See, the other monkeys who had braved the spaceways had been just passengers on their flights, helpless and having no part in the proceedings. They were along for the ride. But Ham was trained to perform tasks in his Mercury capsule, and that little bugger was pressing buttons and flipping switches when prompted by flashing lights.
When Ham went up he didn’t officially have a name - the eggheads didn’t want bad press if a monkey with a name got killed in the flight. It was when he returned that he became Ham, which was an acronym for Holloman Aerospace Medical Center, which is where he was trained.
After his historic flight Ham had a pretty good life, and he lived happily until 1983, when he passed away - apparently fat and content, just like Elvis.
Here’s to Ham, pioneer of the cosmos.