Fifty years ago today, two monkeys were launched in a space capsule from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and returned alive. These little primates captured the imagination of the entire country and proved the feasibility of human space travel. Unfortunately Able, a rhesus monkey, died a few days later of complications from surgery. However Miss Baker, a tiny spider monkey, lived in comfort for another 25 years at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
For the rest of her life, Miss Baker received an average of 100 letters a day from school children who had heard of her great adventure. Over 300 people attended her funeral. Buried on the grounds of the rocket center, she is commemorated with a plaque. Every now and then, to this day, someone leaves a banana on her grave.
I think this anniversary is reason enough to pause and consider the great gifts we humans receive from our animal companions. Animals in the wild inspire us with awe and wonder. Millions have suffered torment and death in the name of research, which has expanded our knowledge and sometimes lengthened our lives. Household pets lavish love and loyalty upon us, and in the process, help many of us learn responsibility and empathy for others.
So if you’re reading this at home and you have a pet, take a moment to scratch the dog’s ears, open a can of tuna for the cat, give the bird a cracker. What better way to spend the next few minutes of your life?