The Way Back: Rocket Sam

The Way Back: Rocket Sam

Unlocking the vault of UT history

Before Yuri Gagarin and Neil Armstrong bookended the space race, there was Sam, a 7-pound rhesus monkey who blasted off in 1959. Born at UT’s Balcones Research Center (now the J.J. Pickle Research Campus), Sam was part of NASA’s Project Mercury, where he and other primates were used to test the physiological and psychological effects of space travel. Pictured above, Sam is carefully loaded into a rocket capsule by UT psychology professors Hugh Blodgett and Wade Lynn Brown.

Launched from Wallops Island, Virginia, Sam made it 55 miles up before the rocket detached and a parachute deployed. He landed 80 miles east of takeoff in the testy waters of the Atlantic Ocean, where he was recovered by sailors, who found him “alive and kicking.”

Not only did Sam survive the trip, he lived out his long retirement back at the lab. There, he was paired up with another monkey, Miss Sam—an astronaut herself who in 1960 made it nine miles up—in order to evaluate the long-term effects of space travel on procreation. As far as being a canary in the coal mine goes, Sam lived a pretty good life.

Photo from Prints and Photographs Collection, Briscoe Center for American History.


No comments

Be the first one to leave a comment.

Post a Comment