The first chimpanzee to orbit the Earth

Space history is full of heroes. And not all of them were human. In fact, many chimpanzees took part in this epic story. One of them was named Enos. Who was he? He was the first chimpanzee to orbit the Earth.

This is Enos, the first chimpanzee to orbit the Earth.
This is Enos, the first chimpanzee to orbit the Earth.

Feat in 1961

This November 29th marks the 60th anniversary of Enos’ journey. He is the second chimpanzee launched into space. But he was the first chimpanzee to orbit the Earth. He completed the orbit in 1961.

Enos completed a full chimpanzee course. He took 1,250 hours of training at the University of Kentucky and Holloman Air Force Base. The training was more intense for him than for his predecessor Ham. Enos would be exposed to weightlessness and higher g-forces. For even longer periods of time. His training included psychomotor instruction and aircraft flying.

He was taught the maneuvers he had to perform during the flight. They used a reward-punishment system. How did it work? It rewarded him for the right maneuvers and gave him electric shocks for the wrong ones. Finally, he was launched into space in a prototype of the Mercury spacecraft. Due to operational failures inside the capsule, the system was reversed. Enos was given electric shocks for every successful maneuver he performed.

Instead of altering his behavior, Enos resisted the electric shocks. And he did the flight maneuvers he knew were correct. The flight put him into orbit around the Earth twice and he landed alive. It was quite a feat.

Chimpanzees were part of the space race from the beginning.
Chimpanzees were part of the space race from the beginning.

Important tests

The Enos flight was a dress rehearsal. Preparations were underway for the launch of Mercury on February 20, 1962. It would make John Glenn the first American to orbit the Earth. Successful suborbital space flights had been made before. They were led by astronauts Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom.

On November 4, 1962, Enos died of dysentery. It is believed that Enos’ remains were dissected like those of Ham, who was extensively studied post-mortem. But he will always be remembered in the history of the space race.

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