Baker, a squirrel monkey, perches on a model of the Jupiter missile that launched her into space on a sub-orbital flight, along with a rhesus monkey named Able, on May 28, 1959 – fifty years ago. Fruit fly larva and sea urchin eggs also accompanied Able and Baker, who both survived the flight; Able, though, died four days after the flight from a reaction to the anesthetic given during surgery to remove an electrode. Baker died at age 27 in 1984 and is buried in Huntsville, Alabama – visitors sometimes leave bananas on her grave. Able, seated on her couch, is on display in the National Air and Space Museum’s National Mall building in the Apollo to the Moon gallery. And she makes an appearance in Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (though played by a capuchin monkey), where she gets to slap Ben Stiller.
And if you happen to be in Washington on June 10th, Able stars in an Ask An Expert presentation, Night at the Museum – the Real Stuff.
National Geographic has a great portfolio of space monkeys, including both Able and Baker, and also Ham the astrochimp.
Allan Janus is a museum specialist in the Archives Division of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, and is the author of Animals Aloft.