Science  Write  Now

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Remember your training, man. 

Three discrete shapes on a screen: 

circle, triangle, circle. The eggheads 

call it an ‘oddity problem’—find the anomaly

give its lever a pull. Nicely done.

From a chute your pellet 

of freeze-dried fruit drops: reward.


Up for another? Two green triangles 

a solitary circle. Can’t fool this one

boys! He’s here to impress. 

Just as in ground-training

chimp Enos, crewman-simulate

NASA’s puzzle champ, doesn’t miss 

a trick. Forget that every

hour-and-a-half he racks 

up another loop of the earth.


He aims for perfect score 

banana pellets on-tap—not once today 

(the day that counts) 

has our guy been dealt the zap

—screwing the soles of two 

wrinkly feet to live electrodes 

was someone’s pre-launch 

waste of time. The next geometric 

trio’s just as preschool-easy.

He slaps at the answer

not skipping a beat


            but searing voltage 

                                    pierces feet as he transmits 

            a stream of squealing telemetry down to Mission

Control. Something’s 

                        not right, but the fault doesn’t lie 

with him. 

            The next response (correct, of course) 

earns a jolt that would            bounce him 

                        out       of his    seat if only the           straps 

            offered slack.


With each fresh orbit, Enos 

isolates, indicates 

anomalous shapes, waits 

for food and the hard-earned 

relief that long ago ceased 

to come. Someone’ll 

have to write this all up.

Why does nothing 

work as it should?

Airplane Baby Banana Blanket interprets the bizarre true story of Lucy, a chimpanzee raised as the ‘daughter’ of Oklahoma psychotherapist Dr Maurice Temerlin during the 1960s and 70s.

‘Space Chimps I’, ‘Space Chimps II’ and ‘Space Chimps III’ signpost the close of each of the book’s three sections. They tell the story of two other chimps — HAM and Enos, unwilling participant’s in NASA’s Mercury Program.

Listen to Benjamin read the poem: