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Early Space Hero

Posted by Richard Conniff on November 7, 2013

Space Sam, in training

Space Sam, in training

I’ve been working through the files of my father, writer James C.G. Conniff (1920-2013) and came across a thick file from a story he wrote in 1958 about the prospect of travel in outer space.  It includes a lot of photos from the early U.S. Space Program, including some of the Mercury 7 astronauts, but this one caught my eye.

It’s Sam Space, a rhesus monkey and test pilot. On December 4, 1959, Sam flew on the Little Joe 2 in the Mercury program to 53 miles in altitude.

UPDATE Nov. 8:  Thanks to @WayOfThePanda, I learned this morning that Sam eventually retired to San Antonio Zoo, where he remained until his death in 1982.  Here’s some material from mySA, a San Antonio, Texas, publication:

Space monkey retires to San Antonio Zoo

By Julie Domel : Thursday, January 17, 2013

I mentioned in a recent post that helping mySA with a slideshow on military folks with S.A. ties had created a wealth of ideas for this blog, which are still percolating.  And then there’s this article, which was a coincidental find while going through Zoo files:

When we were working on the slideshow, I mentioned Sam, but it was pointed out to me that some readers may be insulted by us including a monkey with revered military heroes.

Sam, however, is not just any monkey. His name was an acronym for the School of Aviation Medicine at Brooks Air Force Base. According to NASA’s “Brief History of Animals in Space,” Sam was launched on December 4, 1959, “in a cylindrical capsule within the Mercury spacecraft atop a Little Joe rocket in order to test the launch escape system (LES). Approximately one minute into the flight, traveling at a speed of 3685 mph, the Mercury capsule aborted from the Little Joe launch vehicle. After attaining an altitude of 51 miles, the spacecraft landed safely in the Atlantic Ocean. Sam was recovered, several hours later, with no ill effects from his journey.”

The picture to the left, courtesy of NASA, was taken “after his ride” and while still in his gear. He does not look happy.

He was the third monkey in space after Able and Baker; his mate, Miss Sam, was next. As the May 11, 1971, story from the News mentions, after his spaceflight, Sam had remained under observation at Brooks AFB until his move to the San Antonio Zoo in May 1971 at age 14, which the zoo director said was “a good old age for a monkey.” He was born at the Brooks animal research colony at UT-Austin (he’s a Longhorn!). According to the math, he was around two years old when he made his flight.

The News reported that “[d]espite his advancing years, Sam looks good, no doubt reflecting the excellent care he has received at Brooks. His coat is smooth, his eyes are bright and he is still quite active.”

The NASA history said that Sam died in November 1982 and his ashes were cremated.

–Julie Domel

Finally, here’s the text from the back of the photo at the top of this post.  That’s my Dad’s handwriting, but not sure about the news to which Sam was supposedly reacting.

IMG_20131107_0005

2 Responses to “Early Space Hero”

  1. Richard,
    Do you know if the Air Force preserved Sam’s remains? I’m wondering where he is now.
    Henry

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