In the early 1950s, the U.S. Air Force acquired 65 wild-caught young and infant chimpanzees from Africa and used them to establish an aeronautical research facility at Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, New Mexico. The chimpanzees were used to test the forces of gravity, the effects of high-speed movement, and other conditions anticipated in space travel. Air Force personnel used straight jackets, neck rings, and four-limb restraint on the young chimpanzees to force them to comply with increasing periods in the coffin-like capsules and used painful electric shocks to train them to operate the control panels. Many chimpanzees were trained for a mission into space and died in crash tests, decompression studies, and other painful protocols. Ultimately, two chimpanzees, Ham and Enos, were sent into publicly celebrated space flights on separate missions several months apart.
The Air Force continued to use chimpanzees in air and space research throughout the 1960s. By 1970, they ended their chimpanzee research and began leasing the chimpanzees to biomedical laboratories. Most were leased to longtime chimpanzee researcher and breeder Frederick Coulston, who advocated for their use in chemical and pre-clinical drug testing. Coulston eventually opened his own private research facility, later known as the Coulston Foundation (Coulston), where chimpanzees were extensively bred, sold, and used in invasive research.
In 1997, the Air Force decided to place its chimpanzee colony up for bid. Instead of releasing them all into sanctuary, only 30 chimpanzees were retired to a sanctuary in Texas and the remaining 111 were awarded to Coulston. After a year-long legal battle with the Air Force, another sanctuary known as the Center for Captive Chimpanzee Care, now called Save the Chimps (STC), was successful in gaining custody of 21 of Coulston’s chimpanzees; they arrived at STC’s Florida sanctuary in 2001. In time, more of the former Air Force chimpanzees at Coulston would be rescued by STC and other animal protection groups, while others would remain for life in a lab known as the Alamogordo Primate Facility.