Editors Note: We're blogging through We Didn't Start the Fire by Billy Joel.
Although the phrase ‘space monkeys’ could invoke thoughts of a British pop band or a grotesque game where people virtually try to choke each other to death, Billy Joel referred to space monkeys as the actual monkeys that went to space.
Monkeys were sent to space as an experiment to see how the atmosphere would affect them, so the results could be used later in helping humans survive. The first monkey sent to space was Albert, a rhesus monkey, on a U.S. rocket. The rocket took off on June 11, 1948. However, he died from suffocation, and his aircraft did not reach space.
The U.S. then acquired Albert II, who they sent into space nearly a year after the first Albert. Albert II successfully reached space (about 65 miles above Earth), but died soon afterward from a parachute malfunction.
In May of 1959, the famous monkey astronaut Able and her squirrel monkey friend Miss Baker, became the first monkeys to survive a space mission, return to Earth, and die under causes unrelated to space travel. Able’s body was preserved and can be seen at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
The most recent monkey sent to space was sent by Iran. Their monkey was sent in December of 2013 and was safely returned.