Friday, 10 July 2009

Space the final frontier!

Whenever I go shopping for the grocery's at my local supermarket, and go past the the beverage isle pondering which tea brand will do the job, I always remember with fondness PG tips and the unforgettable television adverts staring chimpanzees, who for 45 years aped family life. The chimps did the Tour de France, became housewives doing the ironing, and my all time personal favourite, the father and son removal men trying to get a piano downstairs, in which the apprentice asks his dad if he knows the piano is on his foot to which his dad replies: "You hum it, son, I'll play it". In the 1970s the chimps were left out of advertising and as a result, sales of PG tips dipped so much so that after 18 months the chimps were brought back. Unilever, the owners of PG, eventually managed to replaced the chimps in 2002, even though they made the brand the most popular tea in Britain. However chimps, dressed in cloths, proved to be controversial in time, with some in this age of so-called political correctness taking exception to what may be considered 'animal exploitation'. However the PG chimps, may have had a lucky escape in comparison to the infant chimpanzees seized in Africa in the 1950s by the US Air Force and pressed ganged into the military air and space research programme, which paved the way for America's first manned space flight in 1961 and, ultimately, the Apollo Moon landing 40 years ago this month.

As America marks the 40th anniversary of man's first footsteps on the Moon, the Socialist Way remembers Ham and Enos, who became two fully fledged "chimponauts" and who were put on solo space missions as part of Nasas's Mercury programme.
Most people I suspect, would be like me until a couple of days ago, unable to name the two chimps who flew precursory flights in the lead-up to human space flights, with Ham preceding the suborbital flight of Alan Shepard, and Enos demonstrating that the orbital flight of John Glenn could go a head.

These chimps along with others were all about a year old when they started training, that involved learning to sit up in the centrifuges of rockets, this process involved teaching them to sit in little metal chairs that were then set apart four to five feet, so they couldn't play with each other, dressed in nylon web jackets which went over their chests, then fastened to the chair. They were kept in the chairs for about five minutes or so and feed apples and other fruit, progressively they were put in there seats for longer periods each day and eventually they were made to sit there all day. After they became familiar with sitting in steel chairs, they began being secured into individually moulded aluminium couches, much smaller versions of those that eventually one day astronauts would occupy in Project Mercury. Apart from participating in tests for space-craft and life-support systems, one of the main chores would be to push levers in sequence, throughout the brief suborbital flight, in order to prove that astronauts could adequately preform similar tasks. Three lights with three levers, the first light was red "continuous avoidance" signal, and glowed all the time. The second was a white light, which would come on when the the test subject pushed the lever below it. If they failed to do this every 20 seconds they would get an electric shock through metal plates attached to the underside of their feet. This will give you the reader, some idea of what cruelty the chimps underwent, at the hands of human scientists, for man's objective to land on the moon.

One Small Step

from the story of the space chimps

In 1959, a chimpanzee named Ham (Holloman Aero Medical )was captured in Africa and shipped to Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Ham was assigned to Holloman's Aeromedical Lab and trained to participate in NASA's Mercury Program. Specifically, Ham was trained to operate a relatively simple control panel for use during a Mercury Redstone sub-orbital flight.

The console, based on a discrete avoidance system, consisted of three levers and three lights. Ham was taught to engage a specific lever in accordance with a specific light and to do so within 15 seconds. If he did not engage the lever in the allotted time or engaged an incorrect lever, he was shocked on the bottom of his foot. For correct answers the console supplied a banana pellet.

While Ham and Enos received world wide attention, their triumphs were quickly forgotten once their human counterparts achieved space travel. Also forgotten was the remaining 141-strong astro-chimp colony until a 1997 Air Force announcement that the chimps would be "retired" from the space program. Thirty of the chimponauts were retired to a primate sanctuary. One hundred and eleven chimps were not "retired" but given to a biomedical research facility to be used for experimental testing.

Ham was three years old when he was officially selected as one of the possible chimps for the MR-2 sub-orbital mission. He and five other chimps were shipped to Cape Canaveral, Florida on January 2, 1961. About 48 hours prior to launch, Ham was selected as the chimp for the mission and on January 31, 1962, he was fitted into a hermetically sealed couch, placed in the Mercury capsule, and loaded atop a Redstone rocket. Countdown to launch proceeded, the boosters engaged, and at 11:54 a.m. Ham was sent rocketing into outer space.

The lift off and entry into space went smoothly but at T+2 minutes and 18 seconds the Redstone escape rocket fired too soon and acceleration increased to 17.0 g's - about 10 g's more then anticipated at that time. Despite the increased speed Ham performed his required tasks with great accuracy during the 16 and a half minute, 363 nautical mile sub-orbital flight.

During re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere the Mercury capsule overheated but telemetry assured the ground monitors that Ham was okay. He plunged deep into the Atlantic Ocean, was recovered at 3:40 p.m., E.S.T., and taken to a waiting recovery vessel. Ham was given a physical examination and was pronounced fatigued but medically sound.

After his examination, Ham was photographed by Air Force and NASA personnel. He appears to be grinning, happy with the anticipation of an apple. A few days after his flight NASA personnel tried to get Ham back into his flight couch for press photos - he wouldn't go near it.

Enos the chimpanzee was obtained from Africa in 1960 as part of the Air Force and NASA Mercury program. Soon after his arrival in the United States, he began 1,263 hours of training in psychomotor operations for orbital in-flight performance maneuvers on the Mercury-Atlas rocket. One of the skills Enos would learn required him to differentiate between colors and shapes on a instrument panel - a correct answer earned a drink of water, an incorrect answer resulted in a shock to his foot.

Air Force and NASA personnel quickly learned that Enos was not a cuddly and friendly chimp. He was quick to bite and was kept on tethers when not in training.

"No one ever held Enos. If you had him he was on a little strap. Enos was a good chimp, he was smart but
he didn't take to people, very little. They said he was a mean chimp, but he wasn't really mean. He just didn't take to cuddling." Senior Master Sergeant Edward Dittmer, former chimp handler

On November 27, 1961 Enos was selected as the chimp for the Mercury-Atlas 2 mission which would attempt three orbits of the Earth. Enos was prepared for his orbital flight and on November 29, 1961 he blasted into outer space and reached orbit. During his flight two malfunctions occurred. The first malfunction occurred in the lever for the motor skills test and Enos was shocked rather then rewarded for each correct answer. As a tribute to Enos, or perhaps his rigorous training, he continued to perform his required operations correctly despite the repeated shocks. The second malfunction occurred in the Atlas rocket's thruster system and, luckily for Enos considering his unfortunate predicament, mission control ended his flight after two orbits of the Earth.

Three hours and 21 minutes after lift off Enos re-entered the Earth's atmosphere and landed in the Atlantic Ocean. He was given a full examination and awarded a clean bill of health. Enos was hailed as a hero by NASA and the press. Thanks to Enos, mission managers concluded that a human could withstand space travel.

Six months after Enos' historic and brave mission he contracted Shigellosis, a rare and potent form of dysentery, and died. His death received almost no media attention. What little attention was given to Enos' death focused not on his courageous mission but rather that Enos had not died as a result from his adventure in space.

And finely as an animal lover I dedicate this blog article, to the memory of Monty, a lovely intelligent family Jack Russell pet, who sadly died earlier this year, but above all else was loved and respected by his human and animal companions including one small ferret.

As the the Times said in a recent piece about the chimponauts: "when the astronauts came back from their space missions they received ticker-tape parades and were rightfully considered heroes. But the chimps were forgotten and relegated along with their descendants to biomedical research laboratories".

Ham was a very affectionate, cuddly, and aptly named chimp. According to his trainer Mr. Edward Dittmer,

"...I think...I know he liked me. I'd hold him and he was just like a little kid. He'd put his arm around me and he'd play, you know. He was a well tempered chimp."

This months Socialist Standard has a related article, it can be viewed by clicking on the Queen above, which is a link to the Socialist Party website. I also think that it would be a good suggestion that the party consider a showing of the film 'One small step,the story of the space chimps'. It would make an interesting topic for decision with many aspects to be investigated, so if Dave and Marie read this.....What do you think?

Monty, Ham and Enos all pioneers.......

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