Ham became the first chimpanzee in space when he launched Jan. 31, 1961. Ham hit an altitude of 157 miles and a top speed of 5,857 mph. After nearly seven minutes of weightlessness and a 16.5 minute flight, Ham returned safely to Earth. NASA credits Ham with paving the way for the launch of America's first human astronaut, Alan Shepard, on May 5, 1961.
Ham was the first chimp, but not the first animal. It was monkeys and not chimps who led the way for Ham. NASA calls Blossom "an unsung hero of animal astronauts." Blossom launched June 11, 1948, but the event got little attention. Later, in 1951, Yorick became the first monkey to live through a space flight. He and 11 mice reached 236,000 feet before being recovered.