The Spectacle Blog

How Many Ways Can You Kill a Monkey in Space?

By on 5.29.14 | 4:01PM

NASA released its first “Global Selfie,” or as Noelle Swan, staff writer for the Christian Science Monitor, called it, “the shot taken round the world.” The 3.2 gigapixel interactive image is made up of tens of 36,422 individual selfies taken by NASA fans around the world on April 22 in a joint NOAA-NASA project.

The Monitor’s Mark Trumbull quipped: “It’s one small click for a whole lot of men and women, one giant piece of computerized collage for NASA.”

The “Global Selfie” campaign is part of NASA’s attempt to draw attention to its budgetary needs and reignite interest in space exploration. In that vein, NASA has launched a full-throttle social media campaign.

I offer a simple solution to NASA’s PR problem: Send cats into space. Cats are an endless supply of inter-generational, attention-grabbing fuzziness. Imagine zero-G meow machines.

The solution was so apparent that I figured there must been at least one attempt at this. And thanks to collective human ingenuity, there will be: Iran’s senior space program official Mohammad Ebrahimi announced their next capsule could carry a Persian cat.

The Internet tried to draw Iran another red line by writing a petition to urge the ballistic country not to send a Persian cat, or any other animal, to outer space. So far no cat has been launched; however Iran did claim it sent a monkey into space. This milestone was disputed after it became clear that the before and after pictures of the space flight depicted two different monkeys.

NASA began experimenting with monkeys in space in 1948. Albert I died of suffocation, Albert II died on impact due to parachute failure, Albert III died in a mid-air explosion, Alberts IV and V also died due to parachute failure.

At this point, the NASA monkey massacrists must have had a moment of remorse, because they began to give the monkeys their own names. Yorick died two hours after landing back on earth due to stress from overheating. Gordo, a.k.a. Old Reliable, was killed due to mechanical failure of the parachute recovery system in the rocket nose cone. Goliath died when his Atlas rocket exploded. Scatback was lost at sea upon return. Bonny died within a day of landing.

But Able, a rhesus monkey, and Miss Baker, a squirrel monkey, survived!

This stubborn anti-defeatest attitude among NASA scientists reminds me of the tenacity of the King of Swamp Castle in Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

When I first came here, this was all swamp. Everyone said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built it all the same, just to show them. It sank into the swamp. So I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. So I built a third. That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp. But the fourth one stayed up!

The 80s and 90s were much more civil to space monkeys. A joint U.S.-Russia space program saw twelve more monkeys to space. The Bion program operated with only one fatality—Multik died from swallowing his own vomit while anesthetized for a U.S. biopsy sample. The program ended in 1997 after the incident.

It is possible that due to the laws of conservation of momentum, there is still an Iranian monkey floating out in space somewhere—a macabre calling card to intelligent life outside our galaxy.

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