June 11, 1948. Humans didn't win the space race, monkeys got there first. Sure, they were using technology built by humans, but that's not the point.
Monkey Astronaut Hall of Fame
The first monkey astronaut was named Albert. The second monkey astronaut was, imaginatively, called Albert II. While Albert II was technically the first monkey to reach space altitude, it wasn't until the fifth line in the Albert dynasty (Albert V), that a monkey successfully returned from space. Unfortunately for Albert V, his parachute let him down and he became another victim of the human space race.
Albert VI was the end of the family line. The Albert name had begun to signify bad luck for monkeys. He passed the baton to Mike and Patricia, who co-piloted a flight on May 12, 1952. They reached an altitude of 74 kilometers, a mere 26 below the human definition of space. Mike and Patricia, we salute you.
It was not until six years later, on December 13, 1958, that Gordo (also called Old Reliable) piloted Jupiter AM 13. Gordo passed the test, but his parachute recovery system was less reliable than his name. Sad.
May 28, 1959. Baker and Able became the first living beings to safely return to Earth, reaching the pinnacle of monkey space flight. Baker became somewhat of a celebrity on his return from the stars and lived off his notoriety until 1984.
The Mercury space program introduced Sam, followed by Miss Sam (presumably a lady monkey) in 1960. Ham and Enos also featured in the Mercury program, but technically they were chimpanzees rather than monkeys. By all accounts, Enos was a rather naughty chimp. Coincidentally, Enos was also the title character from a short-lived police television show - please refer to Classic TV.
1961. Tragedy once again cast a shadow over the monkey space enterprise. November 10th, Goliath, explosion on board rocket. December 20th, Scatback, lost at sea. Fearless explorers both. RIP. But before the end of the decade, Bonny, was to restore pride to the nation. During the period June 29 until July 8, 1969 she became the first monkey to survive a multi day space journey. Monkeys led the way, where humans feared to tread.
The last two monkeys of the American space program represented the nadir of monkey names, and animal names in general - No 3165 and No 384-80. Only a scientist could create such madness.
For completeness, we must mention the great space monkeys of our French cousins: Martine and Pierette, as well as our Russian comrades (known as cosmonauts): Abrek, Bion, Verny, Gordy, Drema, Yerosha, Zhakonya, Zabiyaka, Krosh, Ivasha, Lapik and Multik.
Not all monkeys were lucky enough to make it into space. Some are living happily at the Monkey World Ape Rescue Centre in Dorset, England. An ice-skating chimp in a sailor suit may look pretty cute, it may even have been primetime TV viewing in the seventies, but it's not his natural environment. Nor is living on a curtain in your front room! Monkey World assists governments to stop the smuggling of primates from the wild. At the centre the refugees of this barbaric trade are rehabilitated into natural living groups.