Museum Home Page

Contact Us

Art Center Home Page

____Monte Toon

Historical Research Center

Kansas Celebrity Hall of Fame


Gift Shop

Index of site by category

Independence Historical Museum & Art Center 8th and Myrtle
PO Box 294
Independence, KS 67301


10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
--Tues - Sat
Closed Sunday and Monday

Admission Fee
$5.00 Adults
$3.00 Ages 6-18
Free - Ages 5 & Under
Free Active Military

Holiday Hours

Closed on major holidays


Miss Able, a female rhesus monkey

NASA: Video of the Flight

The first monkey in space, was borm December, 1957 in the Independence Riverside Park Zoo. Her trip into outer space was in the nosecone of the Jupiter Intermediate Range Ballistic Missle which traveled at the rate of 10,000 mph. She died June 1, 1959 from a reaction to the anesthesia after the removal of the electrodes from her body at the conclusion of the flight. Miss Able's body is preserved in the Smithsonian Institute - National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

The City of Independence declared May 28, 2009 was Miss Able Day.

Miss Able was featured on the Life Magazine June 15, 1959.

NASA recognized Independence as the home of the Rhesus Monkeys that they used for the space program. Miss Able was one of the monkeys of that troup.


How did fate or happenstance make little Independence, Kansas the nexus of an aviation and aerospace revolution that landed men on the moon and gave us futuristic communication devices like wireless radio and satellite phones? That incredible chain of events might be traced back to Pharaoh Khufu and the building of the Great Pyramid of Giza, but a direct and irrefutable chain of evidence takes us back to the dark days of the Great Depression. On a cool March morning over eighty years ago, a newly elected president delivered his inaugural address before the white domed U.S. Capitol. Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes administered the oath, and Franklin D. Roosevelt informed an anxious nation that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Soon a whirlwind of federal New Deal programs reached even the distant southeast corner of Kansas. There local WPA workers-paid just a dollar a day-- graded roads, excavated ditches and culverts, and erected the stone and mortar edifice now known far and wide as "Monkey Island." Primates took up residence within the confines of its moat, and it was there that aviation history of a sort occurred in 1949, when shortstop Mickey Mantle batted white spherical objects high into the heavens above Monkey Island-racking up a string of home runs for the Minor D-League Independence Yankees. It is likely that a juvenile female rhesus monkey named Miss Able, a native born on "the island," scrutinized some of these round white missiles sailing skyward above the stadium-which is still located right beside the monkey habitat. During that long ago summer a dream began to crystallize within a furry little cranium.

Converging events had already been set into motion seven years earlier when maniacal dictator Adolf Hitler gathered with Luftwaffe Reichsmarschall Hermann Goring and other advisors at the palatial Berghof, high in the Bavarian Alps above the idyllic village of Berchtesgaden. Demanding that vengeance be visited upon Britain because of the mounting destruction raining down on Germany's bomb-ravaged cities, a hysterical Fuhrer ordered rocketry genius Wernher von Braun to speed completion of the V-2-- the world's first ballistic missile. Eventually Von Braun became a prisoner of war, and rather than aiding in fascist world-domination his employer shifted from Nazi to NASA. The American space program was born.

Back in Independence, Kansas, Japanese aviator Mitsuo Fuchida was also adjusting to a new life after Axis defeat. Descended from a valiant samurai family that had served the Meiji Emperor, Captain Fuchida was one of Emperor Hirohito's most exalted flyers, privileged to command the air attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. It was Fuchida who signaled the 360-plane assault with the words "tora, tora, tora" or "tiger, tiger, tiger"-- meaning that surprise had been achieved. With the war over, the Buddhist Fuchida converted to Christianity, left his native Osaka, and was living in Independence, Kansas by 1952. An animal lover like many Japanese, the solitary former airman in the plain black suit spent many Sunday afternoons at the Ralph Mitchell Zoo-- and reputedly even tossed tasty rice balls over the moat to the hungry rhesus monkeys. A Japanese baseball enthusiast and an admirer of legendary switch-hitter Mickey Mantle, Fuchida would wind up and pitch accurate little white rice curve-balls right through the open windows of the monkey house. Did the famed ace-turned-missionary become friendly with a future primate flyer? Local legend says that he did, and that he counseled Miss Able to use her latent aviation talents for peaceful ends-- instead devoting them to future warfare. Although Able was a fellow Christian, as a staunch cold warrior she only give a respectful bow in response to Fuchida's pacifist advice. Soviet aggression still had to be resisted by patriots of all sizes (and hair densities).

On May 28, 1959, atop ex-Nazi Wernher von Braun's liquid fueled Jupiter AM-18 rocket, Miss Able was fired 300 miles up into the thermosphere. Before his death in 2012, astronaut Neil Armstrong confirmed that he too had visited Monkey Island in the mid-1950s, years before the Apollo 11 moon landing. Did Miss Able teach Armstrong the "rhesus hop" that he used to successfully negotiate the low-gravity lunar surface? Retired Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin has neither confirmed nor denied this theory, but he cryptically remarked "well, somebody was the brains behind the Apollo Program, and her name wasn't Wernher, Mitsuo or Neil." Hundreds of manmade geosynchronous satellites now orbit the earth making wireless communication possible anywhere on the planet, but it all started decades ago when chance global events converged to shape history at a small town Kansas zoo. Today small children can still scan the skies above the little stone castle-- proudly rising from its little isle amid placid waters graced by algae, duck and turtle-- and ponder what new wonders the future might hold.
by: Isaias McCaffery