Category Freedom 7

DIMINISHING CHANCES

Despite the ominous weather, flight preparation work continued at Pad 5. As backup pilot, John Glenn realized that there was no immediate prospect of replacing a fit and ready Shepard on the flight, even if the storm abated. He eluded the waiting press and headed off to the pad to assist in preparing Freedom 7.

Meanwhile, Shepard, remaining in Hangar S, was informed that two ten-minute pauses had occurred in the lengthy countdown in order to assess weather reports. On the nominal schedule, he was to make the three-mile-long journey by transfer van to the pad at 4:00 a. m., but that time came and went, and soon he was watching the first pink tendrils of dawn tinting the gray clouds in the eastern sky. With no word from the weather people, Shepard was coming to the realization that the squall line, which lay ahead of a cold front stretching from Virginia to the Gulf coast, would probably pre­vent a launch that day.

“I frankly didn’t think we would go that morning. I wasn’t trying to second-guess anyone, but the weather did not look good at all. I was sure we wouldn’t get the results we needed, even if we did go. But the crews were ahead on the countdown, and if we didn’t try that morning we would have to go through a long 48-hour delay before we could refuel the Redstone and try again.” [3]

DIMINISHING CHANCES

A fully suited Alan Shepard bides his time, waiting to fly. (Photo: NASA)

Outside, a small group of authorized reporters and photographers representing the vast media army gathered at the Cape were also checking their watches, anxious for something to happen. For some, their main objectives were to photograph or film the space-suited astronaut leaving the hangar for the transfer bus, and the reporters were eager to communicate every move back to their editors. What everyone wanted to know, was which one of the three nominated astronauts was going to fly? NASA had still not announced whether it would be Glenn, Grissom, or Shepard, but the betting was on the affable Marine, John Glenn.

Then, suddenly, it was all over for that day; two storm fronts were converging on the Cape and down along the 290 miles of the Atlantic Missile Range over which the Redstone would fly. As the decision came, Shepard was standing just inside the door

DIMINISHING CHANCES

The public could only speculate on which of the three main candidates would fly the MR-3 mission. (Photo: NASA)

of the hangar, seconds away from going out to the transfer van. He was disheartened by the news, but not surprised. The launch had been postponed for at least two days. NASA needed clear visibility for the mission, especially in the critical first minutes, because the flight controllers would require good visual tracking in order to be ready to trigger Shepard’s escape mechanism at the first hint of trouble. That, they decided, was not going to be the case.

At 7:40 a. m., just 2 hours 20 minutes before the planned liftoff, an announcement came over loudspeakers that the shot had been postponed. “No new launch date has been set, but the minimum recycle time is 48 hours. The pilot will remain in the crew quarters in the Mercury hangar here.”

DIMINISHING CHANCES

NASA’s Chief of Public Information, John (‘Jack’) King officially informs media representa­tives that the MR-3 flight has been scrubbed. (Photo: Associated Press)

After Shepard had doffed his spacesuit, he was given a small glass of brandy to help him over his disappointment. “He didn’t really need it,” according to Lt. Col. John (‘Shorty’) Powers, NASA’s Public Affairs Officer. “There were about nine of us there who needed it more than he did. He just joined us.” [4]

AN AUTHENTIC AMERICAN HERO

Prophetically, Shepard called his flight aboard Freedom 7 “just the first baby step aim­ing for bigger and better things,” but it always galled him that an overdose of caution had cost America (and him in particular) the opportunity to be first in space [5]. His suborbital flight might seem inconsequential when compared with today’s space flights, but at that time it galvanized and united Americans, giving them a renewed sense of pride and accomplishment. It also set in motion mankind’s most audacious scientific undertaking. Just twenty days after Shepard’s triumphant return to Earth, President Kennedy stood before Congress and challenged his nation to land a man on the Moon before the decade was out.

After fellow Mercury astronaut Gus Grissom had virtually replicated Shepard’s flight with a second ballistic flight in July, NASA decided to press on with orbital mis­sions. This was first achieved by John Glenn on board Friendship 7 in February 1962. After two further manned orbital flights by Scott Carpenter and Wally Schirra, it was announced that Gordon Cooper would wrap up the Mercury project with a 22-orbit flight in May 1963.

AN AUTHENTIC AMERICAN HERO

Freedom 7 is shown here after its safe arrival at the Royal Scottish Museum. (Photo: The Scotsman Publications Ltd.)

 

AN AUTHENTIC AMERICAN HERO

In 1998, following the death of former graduate Alan Shepard, the spacecraft went on long­term display at the U. S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland. (Photo: U. S. Naval Academy)

AN AUTHENTIC AMERICAN HERO

Following its arrival in Boston, Massachusetts in 2012, Freedom 7 was delivered to the JFK Presidential Library and Museum as a temporary exhibition. (Photo credit: Rick Friedman, JFK Library Foundation)

AN AUTHENTIC AMERICAN HERO

A smiling Alan Shepard in training for his MR-3 mission. (Photo: NASA)

However, Alan Shepard was keen to fly again, and if it meant using a little of his renowned tenacity then he was prepared to give it his best shot. He knew a spacecraft designated 15B had already been manifested to a possible final Mercury mission and it had been substantially upgraded, making it capable of operating a prolonged flight. Since he was Cooper’s backup and his colleagues were now engaged in assignments specifically related to the Gemini and Apollo projects, he would automatically be the prime pilot for an additional flight, if one were to occur. Shepard strenuously argued for such a mission, even renaming spacecraft 15B Freedom 7II, and having that logo painted on its exterior. As NASA was lukewarm to the idea, in a typically audacious move Shepard went around his bosses in the space agency and attempted to enlist the personal support of President Kennedy, who told him that the decision would rest with NASA Administrator James Webb.

Webb carefully weighed up all the options, and when he stood before the Senate Space Committee in June 1963 he began by stating, in part, “There will be no more Mercury shots.” He went on to explain that Project Mercury had now satisfactorily accomplished its goals, and there should be new priorities. All the energies of NASA and its contractors, he said, should now be fully employed in focusing on the Gemini and Apollo missions. As it turned out, even if Shepard had realized his goal of being assigned a second one – man flight, it was a mission he would never have been able to fly.

An early consolation came when Shepard was selected to fly the first Gemini two – man mission, with rookie astronaut Tom Stafford as his copilot. Shortly after starting preliminary training in the simulators in early 1964, Shepard was suddenly struck by an ailment which threatened to end not only his astronaut career, but also his days as a pilot. He awakened one morning feeling slightly giddy, and upon trying to stand up he collapsed. Thinking it to be an isolated incident, he was not overly concerned. But five days later he suffered a second sudden bout of dizziness, and this time began to

AN AUTHENTIC AMERICAN HERO

Capsule 15B, unofficially named Freedom 7 II, shown in its orbital configuration at the Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D. C. (Photo cour­tesy of Stephane Sebile)

AN AUTHENTIC AMERICAN HERO

The unofficial logo Freedom 7II painted on the side of Spacecraft 15B at the request of Alan Shepard. (Photo courtesy of Stephane Sebile)

vomit uncontrollably. This incident left him with a loud, recurring ringing in his left ear. After these attacks had struck him down several times, Shepard finally realized it was not something he could simply tough out, and made an appointment with the flight surgeons. After extensive tests, a panel of NASA doctors recommended he be removed immediately from his flight assignment.

The ailment proved to be Meniere’s Syndrome. “The problem is not considered very significant for an Earth-bound person, but it sure can finish you as a pilot,” he said during a 1970 interview for Naval Aviator News. “I convinced myself it would eventually work itself out, but it didn’t. Tom Stafford had told me about Dr. House, out in Los Angeles, who could perform an operation on this particular kind of inner ear trouble. At first it sounded a little risky, but in 1968 I finally decided on having it done. With NASA’s permission I went out to California. In order to keep the whole business quiet, Dr. House and I agreed that I should check into the hospital under an assumed name. It was the doctor’s secretary who came up with it. So, as Victor Poulis, I had the operation, and six months later my ear was fine.” [6]

The Mercury flight of chimpanzee Ham

By 31 January 1961, the United States was a nation undergoing radical cultural and ethical upheaval. Changes were swirling in the wind. On that day James Meredith, an African-American, applied for admission to the all-white University of Mississippi, known as “Ole Miss,” and so began a hard-fought legal action that would end in the desegregation of the university and the post-graduation shooting and wounding of Meredith by a white supremacist. That same day, a federal district court ordered the admission of two black students into Georgia University, and the State of Georgia repealed its long-standing laws which segregated the races in its public schools. The university was subsequently desegregated.

Also on that memorable date in American history, space science was on the verge of taking a huge leap forward as a Redstone rocket stood fully fueled on launch pad LC-5 at Cape Canaveral. All was in readiness for the launch of a suborbital mission designated Mercury-Redstone 2 (MR-2). It was hoped that this flight would provide the first major test of several new designs in the Mercury spacecraft, including the environmental control system (ECS), as well as a pneumatic landing bag intended to absorb much of the impact shock when a returning capsule hit the water.

But this time, as America prepared to send a man into space, there was a fully trained passenger on board the spacecraft, namely a 37^-pound chimpanzee. NASA has always had qualms about giving personable names to animals involved in space research missions lest there be fatal accidents, so during the flight training process – as with his fellow chimps – this one was only supposed to be identified as “Subject 65.” He had been allocated this number instead of the mildly offensive “Chop Chop Chang” by which he had been known early in his training, but to his handlers he was unoffi­cially called Ham.

Immediately after his safe recovery, the chimpanzee would be publicly identified in the agency’s press releases not by his subject number, but as Ham. According to popular history, this name was derived from the acronym for the Holloman Aero Medical Research Laboratory, but as his chief handler, M/Sgt. Edward C. Dittmer,

The Mercury flight of chimpanzee Ham

The MR-2 capsule undergoing finishing work at the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo: McDonnell Douglas Corporation)

 

The Mercury flight of chimpanzee Ham

“Subject 65,” also known as Ham. (Photo: NASA)

wryly pointed out to the author, “Our lab commander at that time was a Lieutenant Colonel Hamilton Blackshear, whose friends called him Ham, so there may have been a dual purpose behind that particular name.”

Dittmer also revealed that he enjoyed a great relationship with Ham. “He was won­derful: he performed so well and was a remarkably easy chimp to handle. I’d hold him and he was just like a little kid. He’d put his arm around me and he’d play… he was a well-tempered chimp.” [1]

EYEWITNESSES TO HISTORY

The day of the MR-3 launch left Ed Killian with many memories. “Air Boss Howard Skidmore was in Pri-Fly with his several cameras. I’d never seen so many observers on the island’s superstructure.[2] Every exterior catwalk – every vantage point – was crammed with photographers, reporters, scientists, NASA technicians, and military representatives of all the branches. The crew appeared to be going about its regular routine. There were no more personnel visible on deck than would have been on duty for regular flight operations. Then came an announcement from the ship’s 1MC [the main circuit] loudspeaker that the astronaut was in the capsule and the launch was counting down. The announcement then said that the crew was permitted topside on the flight deck to view the [splashdown] event.” They were to observe the recovery standing aft of a raised arresting gear cable, and aft of the island. Marine guards had been posted opposite the crew to keep them from moving forward prior to the arrival of the Marine helicopter bearing the spacecraft – more as a matter of safety than one of security.

“Following this progress report on the 1MC, the ship’s crew suddenly started to appear on the flight deck. They literally poured out of every hatch, filled every deck catwalk and spilled onto the flight deck. Hundreds of them, in all manner of jersey colors; red for gas handlers and ordnance men; yellow for plane directors; green for electricians and aviation technicians; blue for plane spotters; brown for ship’s hangar deck crews. Sailors in blue dungarees, cooks in cook-caps, the dirtiest First Division bosuns, and sailors of every discipline on the ship poured out onto the flight deck aft of the island, their eyes agog at all the activity on the forward flight deck area. Some crew members whose duty stations were on the island were able to get on the island catwalks to observe the recovery.”

With the launch imminent, Marine Corps Sikorsky HUS-1 Seahorse helicopters on the deck forward of the island were prepped for liftoff, ready to proceed to the recov­ery site which was expected to be several miles off the carrier’s port bow.

Marine Corps lieutenants Wayne Koons from Lyons, Kansas, and George Cox from Eustis, Florida, had been attached to squadron HMR(L)-262. They were aboard

EYEWITNESSES TO HISTORY

The island structure of the USS Lake Champlain on 5 May 1961. (Photo courtesy of Ed Killian)

“The Champ” on temporary assigned duty, having been selected to fly the primary recovery helicopter. Two other Marine Corps choppers were also in the same flight, and ready to act in a backup capacity if necessary. Koons had participated in three previous at-sea retrievals; two as copilot and one as pilot. Cox had been involved in the recovery of the MR-2 capsule that carried chimpanzee Ham on 31 January, just three months ear­lier. About two months prior to the flight of MR-3, Koons and Cox had participated in live training with Shepard, Gus Grissom and John Glenn. In this training the egress trainer was placed in the “back river” at Langley AFB, Virginia, with an astronaut inside. Three live retrievals were made, one with each astronaut, in this calm water environment.

CHEERING THE PRIDE OF DERRY

Due to Shepard’s ongoing post-flight training commitments with NASA, it wasn’t until 9 June 1962 that the people of the Granite State were finally able to openly express their admiration for the famed astronaut. Proclaimed “Alan Shepard Day” by Governor Wesley Powell, the occasion was marked by a well-planned parade that began at the Shepard family home in Derry and continued through the town streets. Accompanying the official cars in the preceding motorcade were some 2,000 people, 19 bands and 20 colorful floats. The bands played and the flags fluttered amidst a profusion of bunting and paper streamers, and crowds roared their welcome at each stop as Shepard and his family waved from their open convertible. Governor Powell made it to Derry for the special day, and was obviously swept up in the excitement when he somewhat grandly overstated, “This is the greatest day in the history of the state!” The motorcade termi­nated later that day at the steps of the state Capitol in Concord.

As the parade slowly progressed along the main street of Derry, some Navy patrol planes roared overhead, buzzing the town as part of the celebration, leading Shepard to comment with a wry smile, “I understand there’s a Navy flier here who tried that once years ago, and didn’t get away with it.” [2]

At one of the stops along the circuitous route to Concord, the Shepards witnessed the dedication of a flagpole erected in his honor at Grenier Field in Manchester. He recalled for the assembled gathering that in his youth he used to sweep out hangars at the field in return for flying lessons. “This,” he said proudly, “is where my original interest and devotion to aviation had its beginnings.”

The tumultuous occasion proved a great inspiration for young David Barka. “It was then that my father and I took on a project together to build a coaster. We lived on a hill and all the kids in the neighborhood built carts to coast down the hill. Mine was in the shape of a rocket that I named Freedom 7 in honor of Shepard’s flight. That coaster sat in my folks’ basement for close to 40 years, and when my Dad passed away in 1999 I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away. I brought it to the house where I then lived with my wife and three children, not knowing that in 2002 we would purchase the Shepard home. The Freedom 7 coaster is still here.”

Today, David and Debi Barka reside in the large white colonial house, custom-built in 1921 on a 4.2-acre lot at 64 East Derry Road, the former home of America’s first astronaut. “We love this house both for its beautiful traditional architecture and for its special history,” he told the author. “We have modernized it where necessary, but preserved unique features such as the door casing that marked Alan and Polly’s height as they grew, and the amazing built-in organ that Alan’s father played; he was the organist at the First Parish Church down the road.

“My wife and I treasure the special meaning that this house has in the history of our country, and especially our town, and are happy to be a small part of it.” [3]

CHEERING THE PRIDE OF DERRY

Some of the Barka family assembled in front of their historic home. From left: Joe and his wife Nicole Barka, David Barka, Nick Barka, Debi Barka, son-in-law Mike McGivern with his and wife Anissa’s son Finnegan. (Photo: David & Debi Barka)

SHEPARD’S SECOND JOURNEY

In 1970 Cdr. Ted Wilbur reflected on transporting Alan Shepard on his aircraft from the USS Lake Champlain to Grand Bahama Island, “No sooner had I cleared the bow than he was out of his seat in the cabin and up to the cockpit, with that big wide grin spread

SHEPARD’S SECOND JOURNEY

The TF1 Trader COD carrying Shepard is in the lead, preparing for a rolling takeoff. (Photo courtesy of Ed Killian)

across his face. Shouting above the noise of the COD’s engines, he described his morn­ing’s monumental adventure, and it was easy to see he had been on top of the world, literally.

“National Geographic photographer Dean Conger was on board too, and after a series of pictures were taken, I pointed up ahead to where the Bahamas were coming into view. By then it was mid-afternoon and, as usual, tall [cloud] build-ups were forming over each island. I commented to Shepard that it would be a shame to spoil his day by running into a batch of bad weather. (The strip at Grand Bahama has no instrument facility.) He looked the situation over thoughtfully, then laughed: ‘Swell! Let’s divert to Nassau and pitch a liberty!’ Unfortunately, we made it into GBI in good shape.” [50]

Dean Conger was pictured shaking Shepard’s hand on the aircraft. “Alan and I chatted away,” he recalled. “But I don’t remember any of what we said.” [51]

Acknowledgements

It is always pleasing once a book is in manuscript form to acknowledge in print the assistance and support of all those people whose enthusiasm and kindness helped to shape the end product. This is the case now, in presenting this record of America’s first human-tended flight into space. Brief though that mission was, it emphatically signaled the beginning of a grand enterprise embracing both science and exploration for the United States.

Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the bountiful help of some people who were either there as this historic mission evolved and was carried through to completion, or them­selves witnessed the amazing events of 5 May 1961. Many thanks, therefore, for their information, photographs and memories to Dean Conger, Philip Kempland, Ed Killian, Wayne Koons, Larry Kreitzberg, H. H. (‘Luge’) Luejten, Paul Molinski, Earl Robb, Joe Schmitt, Charles Tynan, Jr., and Frank Yaquiant.

Other assistance was freely given by Susan Alexander, David and Debi Barka, Reuben Barton, Kerry Black (of the Scotsman Publications Library), Lou Chinal, Dr. Bruce Clark, Rory Cook (Science Museums Group, London), Rick DeNatale, Ken Havekotte, Ed Hengeveld, Richard Kaszeta, Tacye Phillipson (National Museums Scotland), J. L. Pickering, Eddie Pugh, Stephane Sebile, Hart Sastrowardoyo, Norma Spencer, Julie Stanton, David Lee Tiller, and Charles Walker.

Special mention must also be made of the wonderfully supportive and ongoing help I received from Robert Pearlman and the space sleuths, experts, and enthusiasts who fre­quent his website, www. collectspace. com, on which no question ever passes unanswered and offers of assistance flow freely from people with a similar passion for all things to do with the history, present, and future of space exploration. For this Australian space enthu­siast, a day never passes without checking at least once – and often more – the latest posts on this truly amazing forum.

As always, I have to thank an old friend and writing collaborator, Francis French, who readily lends an expert eye by reading through my chapter drafts on his daily train com­mute home from San Diego, seeking overlooked typos, grammatical errors, or missed (or misinterpreted) facts. His suggestions for adding extra information or stories are also greatly appreciated.

Thanks yet again to Clive Horwood of the Praxis team in the United Kingdom for his continuing support of my ideas for books. Similar thanks go to Maury Solomon, Editor of Physics and Astronomy, and Assistant Editor Nora Rawn, both at Springer in New York. Thanks to Jim Wilkie for his brilliant cover artwork. And of course to the man who pro­vides that final polish to my work, the incomparable copyeditor and fellow space aficio­nado David M. Harland.

Thank you one and all for helping me to tell this truly amazing and inspiring story from the very beginning of the human space flight era.

POSTPONEMENT

It was a frustrating time for the reporters and photographers, and for the public now deserting the Cape’s sodden beaches. They had all spent a wet and miserable night waiting for the eagerly anticipated launch shortly after sunrise.

But in the midst of the bad news, there was an unexpected revelation: NASA had decided to reveal the name of the first astronaut. The announcement stated that Cdr. Alan Shepard had been selected to pilot the flight that day, and this would probably remain so for the next attempt. “I was relieved when they made the announcement,” Shepard later revealed. “It was getting to be a strain keeping the secret.” [5] Ironically, just thirty minutes after the delay announcement, the Sun broke through the dense cloud layer.

POSTPONEMENT

Like everyone else, the news media could only watch and wait. (Photo: NASA)

Apart from some maintenance work on the vehicle, everything remained in a ‘go’ situation. However, the cold front that had stationed itself over the Florida peninsula continued to keep launch conditions below the required minimum. Over the next two days, technicians painstakingly purged the Redstone of its corrosive fuel, rechecked its circuitry, and carried out a repair to one of the liquid oxygen lines.

Meanwhile, apart from some simulator work, Shepard was able to relax; taking a nap, answering mail, running at a local beach, and going over the flight plan with his backup and roommate, John Glenn. The weather slowly began to improve, leading Col. Powers to inform a bevy of anxious reporters, “The weather man tells us that it looks like the weather will be clear enough for us to go… the chances are better than 50-50 in our book that we can get off the launching before the weather worsens.” [6] Shepard was a relieved man. “At the scheduled meeting Thursday morning we got pretty fair weather reports. The launch crews were picking up the count again at T minus 390 minutes, and I felt glad that I was going to be able to give it a whirl.” [7]

POSTPONEMENT

Pad 5 as seen from the blockhouse on 29 April during an emergency egress exercise. In a pad abort, Shepard would escape by operating the mechanically actuated side hatch, discarding it, and then scrambling into the basket of the articulated “cherry-picker” crane. (Photo: NASA)

The three-day delay actually proved beneficial to the waiting astronaut. “To my surprise, I felt the launch delay actually eased the tension that had been building up inside me. Before the May 2 [attempt] I’d been plagued with visions of rockets tum­bling out of control or blowing up in the air – after all, I’d seen this happen – but during those three days I was able to back off, regroup, and hit it again. I recognized I was experiencing normal apprehension and not fear. The entire reasoning process was old hat to a test pilot. I knew how to turn off this kind of stuff, and I felt calm as the new launch date of May 5 neared.” [8]

A pre-flight briefing was conducted at11:00 a. m. on 4 May in order to examine all the operational elements of the flight. “This briefing was helpful since it gave us a chance to look at weather, radar, camera, and recovery force status. We also had the opportunity to review the control procedures to be used during flight emergencies as well as any late inputs of an operational nature. This briefing was extremely valuable to me in correlating all of the details at the last minute.” [9]

That afternoon Shepard and Glenn took a leisurely walk along a nearby beach to catch crabs. They were ready to go.

“The night of May 4, however, the other astronauts and support teams brought their own tension onto the scene,” Shepard reflected. “Everyone but me was walking on eggshells. Despite the strong feelings about weather, rocket reliability, the escape sys­tem, anything and everything, no one dared broach those subjects. It all got so thick that I went into my bedroom and phoned my family in Virginia Beach.” [10]

Louise was delighted to hear from her husband. They discussed the weather and the prospects for a launch the next morning. He spoke briefly with Louise’s parents and his daughters before promising his wife he would take care of himself and that he loved her. Then he went to get some sleep.

FLY ME TO THE MOON

Although his surgery was successful, Shepard had lost his chance to fly on Gemini, and there were serious doubts that he would ever fly into space again. To remain part of the astronaut cadre, he had earlier accepted an interim appointment as Chief of the Astronaut Office, giving him a major influence in the training and assignment of his fellows. Eventually, his never-say-die attitude would see him regain active astronaut status, and he promptly launched a determined campaign for a slot aboard a manned Apollo lunar mission.

FLY ME TO THE MOON

The Apollo 14 crew of Stuart Roosa, Alan Shepard, and Edgar Mitchell. (Photo: NASA)

Almost a decade after his historic flight aboard Freedom 7, Shepard was launched into space for a second and final time on 31 January 1971 as the commander of the Apollo 14 mission. Aged 47, he became the oldest of the twelve men to place their boot prints in the lunar dust. Along with Edgar Mitchell, he spent 33 hours exploring the Fra Mauro terrain. He freely admits that when he stepped off the Lunar Module Antares for the first time and stood on the lunar surface he shed tears of wonderment and joy.

At the end of their final excursion, Shepard impishly pulled out a club head which he had secretly brought along, and clipped it onto the long handle of a tool. He then dropped a golf ball onto the surface and attempted a modified one-armed back – swing. “Unfortunately, the suit is so stiff I can’t do this with two hands,” he reported back to Earth, “but I’m going to try a little sand trap shot here.” Using only his right hand he whacked the first of two balls for a distance he later said with a broad avia­tor’s grin was “miles and miles.”

FLY ME TO THE MOON

Alan Shepard stands on the surface of the Moon. (Photo: NASA)

OUT OF AFRICA

Ham was a Pan troglodyte chimpanzee, said (through dental analysis) to have been born around July 1957, and was one of several animals captured by trappers at a very young age in the dense tropical rainforests and savannah of the French Cameroons in Equatorial Africa. According to an article in the April 1962 issue of The Airman, three members of the U. S. Air Force had flown to the French Cameroons to pick up a num­ber of animals.

OUT OF AFRICA

M/Sgt. Ed Dittmer assisted Ham in his flight training. (Photo courtesy of Edward C. Dittmer)

As one of these men recalled, “When the chimps were captured, they were very small and usually ranged in age from 10 to 18 months. The natives tie them with strips of bamboo when they capture them, and make no particular arrangements for holding or feeding the young animals. When the vendor, who sells them to us, finally obtains them, they are quite heavily parasitized and malnourished.” [2]

Following their transportation to the United States in 1959, Ham and the other young chimpanzees were temporarily housed at the now-defunct Rare Bird Farm in Miami, Florida. Eventually this latest batch of chimps was delivered to Holloman AFB’s Air Development Center in New Mexico to join an established colony, where they were assigned identifying subject numbers and unofficial training names such as Caledonia, Chu, Duane, Elvis, George, Jim, Little Jim, Minnie, Paleface, Pattie, Roscoe, and Tiger.

Dittmer was one of several aeromedical technicians assisting in bioastronautics research for the Air Force Systems Command at Holloman AFB, reporting directly to Capt. David Simons at the Space Biology Branch of the 6571st Aero Medical Research Laboratory.

Another member of the Holloman research team was Dr. James P. Henry, who had earlier been involved in studies of blood action under heavy gravity weights and had conducted pioneering work in developing high-altitude protective clothing. Dr. Henry

OUT OF AFRICA

Chimpanzee space candidates Duane, Jim, and Chu enjoy a snack while training to endure prolonged periods strapped into a capsule couch at Holloman AFB. (Photo: USAF)

was appointed as an Air Force representative to a NASA committee charged with defining and setting in motion plans and procedures for animal flights within Project Mercury. He was assigned the role of coordinator for these flights under Lt. Col. Stanley White, a physician and the leader of the Mercury medical team, and he became part of NASA’s Space Task Group at Langley Field, Virginia.

Henry’s specific responsibilities included the establishment of an animal flight test protocol, developing the operational flight plans, and overseeing the design and manu­facture of the flight hardware. He would also monitor the chimpanzee regime at Holloman, where personnel from the research laboratory had been training animals for space flight since July 1959. Initially, the plan was to train and test ten suitable chimpanzees from the colony. As with earlier programs, they began by incrementally conditioning the animals to accept the restraint conditions to which they would be subjected in a spacecraft [3].

Ed Dittmer became involved in working with the chimpanzee colony under the Space Biology Branch at Holloman, where he was the officer in charge. “Back then we got these small chimps from Africa – they were about a year old – and we started a training project,” he recalled. “Of course a lot of things were classified back then, so

OUT OF AFRICA

The test subjects had to learn to sit in metal chairs and move levers. Ham is seated at the rear; the chimp at front is Enos, who would fly an orbital mission in November 1961. (Photo: NASA)

we had no real idea what we were training these chimps for, but we were teaching them to sit up and work in centrifuges, so it was quite evident that we were training them for use in missiles.

“We started out by teaching them to sit in these little metal chairs, set about four or five feet apart so that they couldn’t play with each other. We’d dress them in little nylon web jackets which went over their chests, and then fasten them to their chair. We’d keep them in the chairs for about five minutes or so and feed them apples and other fruit, and we’d progressively put them in their seats for longer periods each day. Eventually they’d just sit there all day and play quite happily.” [4]

Each of the chimpanzees was kitted out with one of these nylon “spacesuits,” and soon came to accept wearing them. During lengthy training exercises, a diaper would also be worn beneath the nylon suit.