Enos the Astrochimp and Enos the Cartoon Character

Oooh, a lesson in not changing history from Mr. "I'm my own grandpa!" - Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth  

Like most of us during the COVID-19 quarantine, to pass my time at home I've been watching waaaayyyy more TV than usual - I joked to my parents I've watched more TV in the past 4 months than I did my entire time on Wall Street! My favorite show has always been the animated sitcom Family Guy - my best friend and I have religiously watched every episode for the past 6 years, from our dorm at UT Austin to our swanky Manhattan apartment post-graduation, and even now over FaceTime since I moved for SpaceX. Knowing this, my current roommate in LA (a SpaceX engineer who works on the Falcon 9 Octaweb!) recommended I pick up Futurama, another hugely popular animated sitcom that ran from 1999-2013. Created by Matt Groening, the same guy who created The Simpsons, Futurama revolves around the adventures of Philip J. Fry, a dim-witted but lovable pizza delivery boy cryogenically frozen on December 31, 1999 and transported to the year 3000. And I loved the creative mix of sci-fi wackiness, crude adult humor, and surprisingly heartfelt moments so much, I binged every episode in just 3 weeks! I didn't expect to find another show I enjoy as much as Family Guy, but Futurama really does it for me. It's that good

I'm honestly so late to the bandwagon, I can't believe I'd never watched Futurama until now

But why am I writing about a cartoon, what does this have to do with space? In the episode Roswell That Ends Well, Fry accidentally time travels back to 1947 and meets his grandfather, Enos Fry. I won't spoil the episode for you (rest assured, things do not end well for Enos, and the outcome for Philip and his grandmother is a hilariously absurd variant of the Grandfather Paradox), but in researching Futurama trivia, I learned that the character Enos Fry is named after Enos the chimpanzee, who became the first chimp in orbit in 1961! Enos' mission, Mercury-Atlas 5, was the final dress rehearsal before John Glenn's historic spaceflight the next year

Enos rocks his spacesuit better than I ever could

In the earliest days of the Space Race, no one had any idea whether humans could survive spaceflight and handle complex tasks in orbit as they do on Earth, so NASA needed guinea pigs. NASA had already launched another chimpanzee, Ham, on a suborbital mission as a test run before Alan Shepard's Mercury-Redstone 3, but because Enos' mission would actually achieve orbit, he needed more extensive training to prepare for prolonged weightlessness and higher G-forces

Enos getting ready for launch. The logo isn't an official mission patch, just a cool fan design I found worth sharing

Enos' task during his planned 3-orbit mission was known as an "avoidance conditioning" test: Enos would be presented with three shapes on the spacecraft display, and he would have to pull the one of three levers that corresponded to the shape different from the other two (left, center, right). If he got it right, he received a banana pellet, but if he picked wrong he received an electrical shock to the feet

Once Enos was in orbit, the first several tests went by without a hitch, but trouble arose when the display presenting the shapes got stuck on the same problem where the center shape happened to be the right answer. Unfortunately, the center lever had simultaneously malfunctioned, so there was no way Enos could submit a correct response! The poor chimpanzee kept trying to pull at the levers, but no matter what he did he kept receiving shocks! After 33 consecutive shocks, the test sequence ended, but when the next battery of tests commenced later on as scheduled, the device failed again and subjected Enos to another 41 consecutive shocks! And through it all, Enos kept pulling at the levers and trying to complete his mission, much to the NASA scientists' amazement and horror

An example avoidance conditioning test (image credit) that would've appeared on the console of the Mercury spacecraft for Enos

Recognizing the problem, along with the fact that another malfunction in the spacecraft's thrusters left the capsule at a steamy 100 degrees, flight controllers mercifully terminated the mission and brought Enos back after just two orbits. Unfortunately his Mercury capsule landed off-course and left him trapped in the spacecraft for more than 3 hours before the USS Stormes could recover Enos off the coast of Bermuda. By the time they found him, Enos had broken through his protective belly panel, yanked out his urinary catheter, and damaged in interior of the spacecraft (honestly after 3 hours in a metal cocoon, I probably would've done the same)

On the front page! I find the other story about the vaccine for 200 diseases a funny coincidence given the ongoing pandemic

Despite his travails, medical examiners declared Enos perfectly healthy upon his return, and although Enos was considered less affectionate and cuddly than his predecessor Ham, once back on the Stormes he jumped right in to the arms of MSgt. Edward Dittmer, the officer who had trained both space chimps. Once again, a primate had proved that humans could live and work in zero gravity. The Space Race was on!

Sadly, Enos died shortly after his mission due to a rare form of dysentery unrelated to his spaceflight, and his remains have since been lost. But at least his legacy lives on, both in the annals of American spaceflight, and as a memorable character from a fantastic cartoon series!

I'm sure by now you've gotten the gist of the time traveling hilarity in this Futurama episode :)

To watch the Futurama episode with Enos' namesake, check it out here!

No comments