Monkeys in space

Squirrel monkey, Baker, who made space flight in Jupiter missile, in lab. Photo by Grey Villet, Life 1959.
Space monkeys Able and Baker were the first U.S. animals to fly in space and return alive — May 28, 1959.
Unfortunately, Able died just a few days later, during a medical procedure to remove an electrode. Her stuffed body is on display at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.

But Baker lived another 25 years, mostly at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala.

"She would get 100 to 150 letters a day from schoolchildren," says Ed Buckbee, a former director of the center. Children read about her in textbooks and wanted to say hello. "She was very prominent in the story of our early spaceflight ventures."

The pioneering monkeys weren't forgotten, even after the first humans reached space in 1961.

More than 300 people attended Baker's funeral service when she died of kidney failure in 1984, Buckbee says.

And, he says, often at her grave at the entrance to the rocket center, "you'll see a banana or two laying there. You know, some youngster brought it or somebody heard the story and wanted to leave something in memory, kind of like leaving flowers over a person's grave."