AIR SPACE

America's first space monkey

On the morning of January 31, 1961, in south Florida, a 5-year-old chimpanzee — dubbed “Ham” by his handlers — ate a breakfast of baby cereal, condensed milk, vitamins and half an egg. Then the unassuming 37-pound primate went out and made aeronautic history. Check out the full slideshow at LIFE.com.

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Ham the astrochimp after his historic 1961 suborbital flight. Aboard a NASA space capsule, traveling thousands of miles an hour almost 160 miles above the Earth, he became the first chimp in space.
Ralph MorseTime & Life Pictures

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Astrochimp in training, 1960.
Ralph CraneTime & Life Pictures

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"A hug and a pat are exchanged in a moment of fond reassurance."
Ralph CraneTime & Life Pictures

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A chimp is strapped into a "couch" rigged with all manner of monitoring equipment during a test prior to Ham's January 1961 flight.
Ralph CraneTime & Life Pictures

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An astrochimp learns to handle equipment at Holloman AFB, 1960.
Ralph CraneTime & Life Pictures

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Astrochimp in training at Holloman Air Force Base, 1960.
Ralph CraneTime & Life Pictures

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A Mercury space capsule carries Ham the astrochimp into space on Jan. 31, 1961. His flight lasted 16 minutes and 39 seconds.
Ralph MorseTime & Life Pictures

America's first space monkey

On the morning of January 31, 1961, in south Florida, a 5-year-old chimpanzee — dubbed “Ham” by his handlers — ate a breakfast of baby cereal, condensed milk, vitamins and half an egg. Then the unassuming 37-pound primate went out and made aeronautic history. Check out the full slideshow at LIFE.com.

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