Check out our article about the Mercury program, America's first manned space program, and the unknown aspects of that program!

America's Encounter with Space and Chimpanzees

The Mercury program, also known as the Mercury project, is America's first space program, which aimed to send the first American into space and make at least one orbit since 1959.

  • What are the rockets launched in the Mercury program?
  • Do you know chimpanzees who have made incredible contributions to manned space travel?
  • Do you know the name of the first American astronaut in space?

Within the Mercury project, 3 different rockets were used and nearly 30 flight attempts were made with or without pilots.

The rocket named Little Joe, which was used at the beginning of the program, was used to send chimpanzees into space during capsule tests and made significant contributions to the program.

The chimpanzees sent into space contributed to the collection of incredible information about manned space travel without even realizing it.

Chimpanzees Named Sam, Miss Sam, Ham and Enos

On December 4, 1959, on the Little Joe-2 mission, the first passenger of the Mercury program, a chimpanzee named Sam, was taken in a capsule 85 km above the surface and returned safely.

On January 21, 1960, on the Little Joe-1B mission, the second chimpanzee named "Miss Sam" was taken only 15 km above the surface due to some controls.

Until February 21, 1961, no living beings were used in all flights, but a brand new rocket named Redstone was built during this period. The Redstone rocket was very successful in its unmanned trials and it was time to send a living creature into Earth's orbit. A chimpanzee named Ham made it all the way to the lower orbit of the Earth in a total journey of 16 minutes.

First American Astronaut in space

Immediately after this, it was confirmed that the Redstone rocket was ready to send humans into space. Alan Shepard, who successfully passed the necessary training, was sent into space on May 5, 1961 and became the first American to go into space.

Developing another rocket named Atlas, engineers decided to send another living creature into space during unmanned trials. On November 29, 1961, a chimpanzee named Enos was sent into space. Enos orbited the Earth for two full orbits and made it back to Earth.

Enos allowed engineers to measure the rocket's power and the capsule's durability. Just 3 months after Enos' mission, the Atlas rocket began preparations to send a man into space. On February 20, 1962, John Glenn, the third American to go into space, also took his place in American history by orbiting the Earth 3 times.

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