If there were a book on chimpanzee history, the day of November 29th, 1961, would be considered one of the most important chapters of chimpkind. That day, the chosen hero of the great apes, called Enos, orbited the Earth aboard the Mercury-Atlas 5, thereby becoming the first creature who achieved Earth orbit and representing the triumph of American science.
In 1959, the USA launched Project Mercury with the aim of putting the first man into orbit around the Earth before the Soviets. However, experiments progressed slowly and Americans were beaten because in the meantime two Soviet astronauts, Yuri Gagarin and Gherman Titov, had orbited the Earth. From that moment Americans were forced to hurry and produce something great so as not to be out of the game called the Space Race. Despite that two of the first three Atlas rockets exploded shortly after the launch, the space capsule of the forth one, which was launched on September 13, 1961, managed to make a circle around the Earth.
However, Americans still did not dare to send a manned mission into space and decided on launching the fifth rocket, this time with Enos on board. After completing 1250 training hours, Enos was selected for the task three days before the launch of Mercury-Atlas 5. The chimpanzee reached the peak of his career.
Although experts at NASA planned that “the astrochimp” would complete three orbits, due to technical problems they decided to bring down the first space traveler after two completed circles. Finally, 181 minutes after take-off, the spaceship landed in the Atlantic Ocean south of Bermuda. Sadly, Enos did not live long after his success; he died of dysentery on November 4, 1962.
After the epic flight of Enos, John Glenn eventually became the first American to orbit the Earth aboard Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962. Legend has it that when President Kennedy’s daughter Caroline met Glenn after his flight she immediately asked the astronaut: ’”Where’s the monkey?”
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