The image foremost in the public imagination when it comes to the early days of space exploration is probably one of a chimp being helped into or out of a shiny silver nosecone. The chimp would, of course, be wearing a NASA jumpsuit of some kind and possibly one of those goldfish bowl helmets.
Not so. As people from the Former Soviet Union would proudly point out, the first animal in space was a Soviet canine citizen called Laika. And besides, Chimps are apes.
The first monkey launched into space was Gordo, a Squirrel monkey who rode Jupiter AM-13 into orbit on December 13th 1958. Gordo, also known as Old Reliable, survived the launch and a brief foray into orbit. Sadly, the failure of a flotation device in the nosecone of his vessel meant he couldn't be recovered alive. His Stuff, it seemed, just wasn't Right.
Gordo's legacy as the first Space Monkey was carried on in 1959 by a Rhesus monkey called Able and a Spider monkey called Baker. Able and Baker were sent into orbit aboard the Jupiter AM-18 in May of 1959. They survived both the trip and the recovery becoming the first creatures to do so.
The procedure of sending animals into space carried on and in 1961 a chimp called Ham became the first Ape in space, followed by Enos in November of the same year. Their sacrifice, and the test results gained from their missions, made it possible for much more famous names to be launched into orbit and eventually to the moon.