Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

Space experiments on animals: A giant leap backwards

Posted: 4 November 2010. Updated: 16 March 2013


Decisions by NASA and the Russian space agency to perform experiments on monkeys as part of plans for manned missions to Mars have brought a global response from ADI. Consequently, several high profile voices from the industry have now been raised against the cruel experiments.

  • Umberto Guidoni, former ESA and NASA astronaut and member of the European Parliament, has condemned the tests.
  • The European Space Agency (ESA) has told ADI that it considers monkey tests unnecessary.
  • April Evans, an awarded NASA aerospace engineer, has resigned from her role on the International Space Station (ISS) program as a result of NASA’s primate irradiation experiments. Read her exclusive interview in this issue and watch our new video online.
  • Celebrated Russian cosmonaut and world record holder for time spent in space, Valentin Lebedev, has added his voice in protest.
  • Even President Barack Obama has stressed the need for NASA to focus on developing appropriate shielding.

So why on earth are NASA and the Russians pressing on with these experiments?

See how can YOU help stop them.

In the last issue, we exposed the NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) plans for radiation experiments on thirty squirrel monkeys. The monkeys will endure a massive dose of radiation and then, kept alone, their ability to perform tasks will be studied for three years – at a cost of $1.75 million to US taxpayers. Yet the test is scientifically flawed.

Squirrel monkeys were chosen because of their large brains. Their high intelligence means they will certainly comprehend their torment as, sick with radiation poisoning, they are strapped into restraint chairs and made to perform tasks. However, the results cannot be extrapolated to humans with any degree of confidence, due to problems with the experimental design, as well as species differences.

There is already an enormous amount of human data available on the effects of radiation: fallout from atomic bombs; nuclear power; X-rays; radiotherapy. There may be differences in the radiation sources, but these remain a more viable source of data from which to extrapolate to humans, rather than another species. As one science paper noted recently, “Some animal studies suggest radiation increases longevity” but that “there is virtually no support for a life expanding hypothesis for A-bomb survivors and other exposed subjects”.

The experimental design is also fundamentally flawed. The objective is to examine the impact of three years of cumulative radiation exposure during a return mission to Mars. Yet the monkeys will receive one massive dose.

After exposure to the radiation the monkeys will be individually caged for 3 to 4 years, during which time they will be periodically restrained and forced to perform tasks to test incapacitation of their cognitive skills. The social isolation of these animals will cause immense suffering, which will in turn, further distort the data obtained.

NASA has not yet developed the shielding technologies that will be required for such a mission, making these experiments both premature and scientifically flawed.

The tests are being conducted by the Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), New York, in collaboration with McLean Hospital, Belmont, MA.

Astronauts back campaign

In 2008 Russia announced a series of radiation experiments on monkeys (photo: left) in preparation for a mission to Mars. A year later NASA followed suit. ADI launched a campaign in 2008, opposing the Russian Mars500 experiments on macaque monkeys. Umberto Guidoni, a former ESA and NASA astronaut and then a Member of the European Parliament, wrote to the Russian Federal Space Agency, saying that he “fully support[s] the position of organizations such as ADI that are asking to develop effective alternative[s] to experiments with animals,” and stressed “any effort should be made to use technologies that can replace experiments on animals and, therefore, avoiding their cruel sacrifice”.

ADI and Belgium’s Anti Dierproeven Coalitie (ADC) demonstrated, and lobbied the headquarters of Mars500 partners, the European Space Agency (ESA) in Holland. In April 2010, Director, Mr Jean-Jacques Dordain, wrote to ADI stating that the European Space Agency “declines any interest in monkey research and does not consider any need or use for such research results.”

In August, Valentin Lebedev, one of the mostly highly awarded Cosmonauts in Russia, added his voice to the campaign. Lebedev twice received the Hero of the Soviet Union medal for his service to space exploration; a planet has been named in his honor, and he is currently Director of the Scientific Geoinformation Center in Russia. The Cosmonaut describes the experiments on monkeys as “inadmissible for humane reasons” adding that “the existing knowledge received from past experience of long-time space flights is quite enough right now to predict their influence on people even regarding radiation issues.”

ADI and our supporters have written to NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden, Jr. and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging them to stop the tests. Mr. Bolden has defended them as “very strongly peer-reviewed” and “very humane.” Neither claim appears credible.

We have also written to President Obama, referring to his Presidential map for NASA, outlined earlier this year, which does not include primate testing. This urges that the focus should be on creating new technologies, including radiation shielding to enable deep-space exploration.

A NASA engineer has now broken ranks to oppose the experiments, believing that the view espoused by the President to develop effective shielding is the way forward.

This spring, NASA aerospace engineer April Evans contacted ADI saying that she had resigned as a space architect on the International Space Station as a result of NASA’s decision experiment on monkeys. Ms. Evans is an accomplished nine-year veteran of the Human Spaceflight Program, and a recipient of the NASA Space Flight Awareness Honoree award. In a letter to Samuel Aronson, director of the Brookhaven National Laboratory, Ms. Evans explained that “after much deliberation, I resigned from NASA because I could not support the scientific justification for this monkey radiobiology experiment.” April has since appeared in the media with ADI calling for an end to the experiments and appears in a new campaign video.

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