NASA initiated Project Mercury in 1958 with the goal of sending a man into space. However, before sending astronauts into space, NASA wanted to study the effects of short duration space flight on living organisms.
On January 31, 1961, NASA launched HAM (Holloman Aero Med), a chimpanzee, into space. During his 16 minute mission, HAM traveled 157 miles away from Earth. This mission enabled NASA scientists to successfully study the effects of space travel on living organisms. NASA found that after his few minutes in a gravity free environment, the chimpanzee was a little fatigued and slightly dehydrated. Aside from that, he was healthy. HAM’s journey paved the way for astronaut Alan Sheppard to become the first American to travel into space on May 5, 1961.