January 31, 1961: First primate launched into space

Ham, a four-year old chimpanzee, was put into suborbital flight aboard the Mercury-Redstone 2 rocket. During his sixteen-minute flight, Ham was wired to medical sensors to monitor his vital signs. The capsule reached an altitude of 108 miles and speeds in excess of 13,000 mph. NASA used Ham to test the capabilities of the Mercury capsule before putting a human life at risk. The success of Ham's flight enabled NASA to put Alan Shephard, the first Mercury astronaut, into space three months later.