"In the time of chimpanzees, I was a monkey."

--BECK - "Loser"

Today, January 31st, 58 years ago in 1961, the first animal the U.S. sent into space was launched 157 miles above Earth. Yeah, send the primate up first, if he survives, then we'll try with people....he didn't die.

Being taught to pull levers with light and sound prompts, Ham the Chimp's launch and successful return gave hope a human could survive space, too.

NASA

After a 16.5 minute flight, Ham the Chimp's space capsule was recovered from the ocean before he could drown. That was his only flight. Ham lived the rest of his life in a cozy zoo and a human astronaut went to space three months later.

I wanted to call this piece "Space Monkey", but chimpanzees are more akin to apes. Most apes do not have tails, while most monkey species do. Apes tend to be larger than monkeys and usually have larger brains.

Ape species include humans, gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, gibbons, and bonobos. In evolutionary and genetic terms, ape species are much closer to humans than monkeys are.

So cheers to the chimp, he's the champ!