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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

50 Years Ago Today: Enos the Chimp Goes to Space.

MA-5 lifts off from Cape Canaveral.

Fifty years ago, NASA launched its last test of a Mercury-Atlas rocket before placing a human in orbit. MA-5 blasted off from Launch Complex 14 at 8 am MST on November 29, 1961. Engineers had been preparing this flight for 40 weeks. It seems that as new technology continued to improve, the mission of MA-5 kept changing. Finally it was decided to test the capsule with a live occupant. But instead of an astronaut, a chimpanzee was placed aboard.

Enos in his space couch.

Until the flight of MA-5, the most famous space chimp was Sam, who had flown in a test of the Mercury-Redstone rocket before Alan Shepard flew his mission. This time the task fell to Enos, which means "man" in the Hebrew language. Five hours before liftoff, Enos was secured into his spacesuit-couch and placed in the capsule. The launch went well and Enos was placed into orbit.

However, once in orbit, things "went south". The attitude control system malfunctioned. The auto correction thrusters were engaged 9 times to keep the craft in proper attitude before retrofire. The environmental control system also malfunctioned, and the capsule began heating up inside. Enos' body temperature reached 100.5 degrees F and mission controllers worried about the health of the chimp. Then the environmental system corrected itself and normal temperature was restored. Because the thruster problem was using up fuel, it was determined to bring back the capsule after the 2nd orbit. The capsule splashed down in the Pacific off the coast of California. After search planes spotted the craft bobbing on the waters, the destroyer USS Stormes retrieved the capsule and extracted Enos the Space Chimp.

With the success of MA-5, the qualifications had been met for the launch of humans aboard the Atlas rocket, and preparations began for the launch of the first American to orbit the Earth. As for Enos, the brave animal passed away about a year later after contracting a form of dysentery.

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