Home / Culture / An Auburn grad was personal vet for Ham the Astro-Chimp, the first ‘American’ in space

An Auburn grad was personal vet for Ham the Astro-Chimp, the first ‘American’ in space

It wasn’t just Auburn engineers and physicists carrying NASA on their backs. Turns out, even Auburn vets were lending a hand in America’s space program. Literally.

Dr. Richard Benson, class of ’49, was the main veterinarian (and even roommate or suitemate or something) of the immortal Ham the Space Chimp, the first chimp in space.

Ham was the man, as it were, blasting into the final frontier on January 31, 1961, aboard a Mercury Redstone rocket (which was built in Huntsville, probably by Auburn dudes) in order to put astronaut Alan Shepard’s mind at ease. (Shepard wouldn’t die up there, and he’d able to pull levers for banana pellets with ease.)

The first Earthling Ham encountered after he was extracted from the ocean and the plexi-glass covered capsule emblazoned with the words “Have Gun, Will Travel?” Benson, who greeted the astro-chimp with a stethoscope, and what the Auburn Alumnews called “an Auburn handshake.” The cameras flashed.

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Then Ham burped. Then Benson checked Ham’s diapers. “They’re damp,” he said.

Did I mention Benson was trained in chimp care by veterinarian Dr. John Moseley? You’ll never guess where he went to school…

Related: Auburn grad in line for Apollo 11 flight wanted ‘War Eagle’ to be first words spoken on the moon.

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More Tales of Auburn in Space:

* Auburn grad in line for Apollo 11 flight wanted ‘War Eagle’ to be first words spoken on the moon
* AU Student Built Satellite Signals Life with coded ‘War Eagle’
* Loveliest Space Station Orbiting The Plains
* Interstellar Auburn pennant
* The Auburn Creed in Space

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About Jeremy Henderson

Jeremy Henderson is the editor of The War Eagle Reader and co-host of Rich and Jeremy in the Mornings on Wings 94.3 FM in Auburn. Follow him on Twitter: @wareaglereader / @jerthoughts / @RichandJeremy

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