Before man travelled in spacecraft, scientists sent monkeys on space flights to
test the effects of noise, acceleration, vibration, re-entry, and zero gravity.
Monkeys and chimpanzees were selected for these tests due to their physical
similarities to man.
A chimpanzee named "Ham" flew on the first U.S. Mercury-Redstone space
flight in a couch just like the one on display. The couch was placed in a
Mercury space capsule attached to a Redstone missile and launched into
sub-orbital flight. Sub-orbital means it did not make a complete revolution
around the earth. That flight and several similar experiments were successful,
and manned flight followed shortly after.
On May 5, 1961, Navy Commander Alan B. Shepard, Jr., America's
first astronaut, was launched into space in the Mercury capsule "Freedom 7" for a 15-minute,
115-mile high sub-orbital flight.