The German advance into Belgium in the spring of 1940 was swift and decisive. Belgium was militarily unprepared for war – as late as November 7, 1939, the Belgian government had called for an end to hostilities – and even if its military had been prepared, it was massively outgunned by the Nazi war machine. The invasion of Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg began on May 10, 1940.
By May 17, the Belgian capital of Brussels had fallen to the German advance, and deciding that the Allied cause was lost, King Leopold III surrendered to the Germans against the advice of his government on May 28, 1940. He would spend the rest of the war as a prisoner of the Nazis, while the majority of his government went into exile (primarily in Britain) and continued to lead Free Belgian Forces in the fight. Belgium was eventually liberated in 1944, although it was not until the end of the German Ardennes Offensive in 1945 that fighting on Belgian soil concluded.
In the early days of space exploration, no government seemed ready to send humans into space. After all, no one knew what sort of effects exposure to conditions in space would have on human biology. But dogs and monkeys were fair game.
The United States launched monkey flights between 1948 and 1961, and France launched two monkey space flights in 1967. Most – but not all – monkeys were anesthetized before lift-off. Each monkey flew only one mission, although there were numerous back-up monkeys also went through the programs but never flew. Monkey species used included rhesus monkeys, cynomolgus monkeys, squirrel monkeys and pig-tailed macaques.
Able, was a rhesus monkey, and Miss Baker, a squirrel monkey, and on May 28, 1959, aboard the JUPITER AM-18, they became the first living beings to successfully return to Earth after traveling in space. They travelled in excess of 16,000 km/h, and withstood 38 g (373 m/s²). Their names had no particular significance, being simply taken from a phonetic alphabet.
Able died on June 1, 1959 during surgery but Baker lived into old age, dying on November 29, 1984, She is buried on the grounds of the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and Able was preserved, and is now on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum.