Astronauts Meet Astro-Chimps!

Save the Chimps Welcomes Heroes of NASA Space Program in Salute to America’s Original Space Chimps.

A historic moment unfolded at Save the Chimps on April 30, 2009 when two astronauts visited the descendants of the original “space chimps” who reside at the Florida sanctuary.

Although this was a private event, members of the media were invited to attend the visit of NASA heroes, Commander Scott Carpenter and Captain Robert L. Crippen.

Carpenter was one of the original seven Mercury astronauts and pilot of America’s second manned orbital flight.

Crippen, longtime supporter of Save the Chimps, was the pilot of NASA Shuttle Program’s first orbital test flight and the commander of three additional shuttle flights.

Astronauts Robert Crippen and Scott Carpenter visit Save the Chimps!

The astronauts visited the sanctuary to pay tribute to the chimps who paved the way for the United States’ subsequent successful missions into space and to acknowledge the chimps’ contributions to the space program.

Save the Chimps was established in 1997 in response to the U.S. Air Force’s announcement that it was getting out of the chimpanzee research business. In 1999 STC was awarded permanent custody of 21 chimps, survivors and descendants of those captured in Africa in the 1950’s and used by the Air Force as test subjects for the original NASA space program. This milestone event marks the first time astronauts have visited the sanctuary.

Against a backdrop of wood platforms, swings and blue sky, Scott and Patty Carpenter and Robert and Pandora Crippen toured the Florida sanctuary and witnessed first-hand the natural stress-free environment in which these chimps now live. Mr. Carpenter remarked that he has a“great deal of respect for space travelers more senior than I, and I have a great respect for the species that did it first.”

The chimps observed their guests with similar interest. The visitors elicited great curiosity from the chimps, who could be seen displaying from their islands. Mr. Crippen also noted that Florida was a good location for the retired space chimps, saying “It is most appropriate that they be given a retirement home here in Florida where we all live.”

The tour ended at the Air Force Island, home to 16 of the original chimps rescued by STC, at which point a statement by Dr. Jane Goodall was read. In it, she credited Ham, short for Holloman Aerospace Medical Center, for his trip into space. She said, “On 3lst January 1961, during my first year studying the chimpanzees of Gombe in Tanzania, a young chimpanzee named Ham hurtled into space and back in a Mercury capsule, paving the way for US Astronauts to make similar journeys. Goodall concluded, “Today, 48 years later, I would like to thank the astronauts, Robert Crippen and Scott Carpenter, for honoring these chimpanzees and recognizing the contribution made by Gromek, Dana and Gogi, as well as those who never found sanctuary.”

Standing next to a replica of a Ham and Carpenter’s Mercury space capsule, the heroes were impressed with the sanctuary and its inhabitants and each shared few words. “At the time we didn’t know that we didn’t have to have chimps go into space first but the public felt safer. In hindsight, it was unnecessary.” said Carpenter.

These legends of the NASA space program later added their signatures to a commemorative plaque, which will be hung outside the Air Force Island honoring the chimps and this historic moment. Carpenter eloquently commented, “We’re paying them back for their service.”

Save the Chimps presented both Commander Scott Carpenter and Captain Robert Crippen with a plaque to honor their extraordinary efforts to the United States space program and for their recognition of the chimpanzees. The plaques were signed by Save the Chimps’ Founder, Dr. Carole Noon, and by Dr. Jane Goodall. Although Dr. Noon was unable to attend the event due to the advanced state of her pancreatic cancer, she was proudly aware of their visit and from her bedroom door, witnessed this long awaited occasion. Two days later, Carole Noon passed away peacefully knowing the chimps had at last been honored by their fellow astronauts.

Save the Chimps would like to thank Mr. Carpenter and Mr. Crippen for such a memorable experience. We are extremely grateful to these two American legends for recognizing and supporting the mission of Save the Chimps. Their visit inspired excitement and awe in everyone and it is a day we will never forget.

Save the Chimps, Inc. is a 501 (c)(3) charitable organization and all contributions are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.

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