Miss Able, Kansas Space Monkey

(Frank) Here we are again. (Deb) We’ve got a story for you. (Frank) Monkeying around. [Laughter] (Deb) What we do best. Well, I have to credit my friend Toni Boyles for bringing this story to my attention because we were sitting around having margaritas one night and she starts talking about monkeys in space and I’m totally spacing this whole conversation. (Frank) Coming from space or going to? (Deb) Well, exactly. I couldn’t follow it well. But then she sends me a link to the story of Miss Able; the first space monkey who was from Independence, Kansas. Who guessed? And it goes back to the Monkey Islands that we had. You can’t make this stuff up, people, I’m telling you, you just can’t make this up. Topeka Zoo had a Monkey Island. (Frank) Topeka Zoo had a Monkey Island. It was one of the most popular attractions, yes. (Deb) You’ve literally got this island where the monkeys live and it was sitting out in the middle of a pond? (Frank) A moat, there was a moat around it and then you saw this little village and the monkeys all over it and they had places they could swing and the whole thing. It was a lot of fun, it really was. (Deb) How long ago was that? (Frank) Oh my, it was still in— (Deb) Decades? (Frank) Well, yes, it was still there in the mid ‘50s, I believe, but I think it came into being somewhere in the late ‘30s, ‘40s but it was around for quite a while. (Deb) Well, Independence had one of those so Miss Able came from the Monkey Island Independence, Kansas and her story is very, very interesting. Again, I’ve got thank my good friend Toni Boyles for bringing that to my attention. Like you said earlier, Frank, you just never get too old to learn stuff and when you’re around cool people drinking margaritas, man, you’ll get some story ideas; you’ll get some inspiration. (Frank) [Laughs] It’s amazing you can remember it. Sorry. (Deb) In the movie Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, a couple of Kansans are front and center of the story. One is fabled flyer, Amelia Earhart. The other is Miss Able, the Space Monkey. Amelia, of course, was born in Atchison, and famously disappeared in her attempt to fly around the globe. She was truly a pioneering figure in aviation, opening the skies to women pilots. She became an iconic figure and is recognized around the world. Miss Able, a rhesus monkey, was born on Monkey Island in Independence, at the Ralph Mitchell Zoo. She, too, became world-famous after she was chosen to participate in the space program. In May 1959, aboard the JUPITER AM-18, Miss Able, and Miss Baker, a squirrel monkey, became the first monkeys to successfully return to Earth after traveling in space. Their names were taken from a phonetic alphabet. The pair traveled in excess of 16,000 km/h, and withstood 38 G’s. Their mission was crucial in understanding the effect of these conditions on mammals. Miss Able died June 1, 1959, while undergoing surgery to remove an infected medical electrode. She suffered a reaction to the anesthesia. Miss Baker died November 29, 1984, at the age of 27 and is buried on the grounds of the United States Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Miss Able was preserved, and is now on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum. In the movie, Miss Able, portrayed by Crystal the monkey, helps Larry the security guard, played by Ben Stiller, and Amelia, played by Amy Adams, exit the museum by opening a large roller door. In real life, Miss Able opened the door for humans to journey into space. She is among the more popular museum exhibits, and is rightfully taking her place in the long line of Kansans who have made history in air and space.

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