cover image The Astrochimps: America’s First Astronauts

The Astrochimps: America’s First Astronauts

Dawn Cusick. Chicago Review, $19.99 (216p) ISBN 978-1-64160-895-4

Before Mercury Seven astronauts began their explorations, NASA recruited and trained six chimpanzees to compete with Sputnik, which Cusick (the Get the Scoop series) perceptively depicts in this fascinating work. As part of the Mercury Chimpanzee Training Program, chimps Tiger, Roscoe, Rocky, and Minnie, along with good-natured Ham and cantankerous Enos, attended what NASA coined “Chimp College,” a physically intense training program in which most of the subjects performed better than their human counterparts. After succeeding in operating myriad buttons, handles, and levers under strenuous zero-gravity and g-force conditions, the group was declared flight ready; Ham would become the first U.S. astronaut in space on Jan. 31, 1961. In this thoroughly researched text, the author demonstrates profound sensitivity to issues surrounding the primates’ origins—some were obtained from poachers—and recounts the chimps at play and work and interacting with their human trainers. By touching on subjects of animal rights and experimentation, as well as gender equity within Homo sapiens society, Cusick breathes life into a seldom heard story and reminds readers that while “we cannot undo the past... we can create a new future.” A glossary, author’s note, resources, and further notes conclude. Ages 8–12. (Feb.)