Animal Defenders International

 

Animal Defenders International

The NASA Engineer who resigned over the monkey tests

Posted: 4 November 2010. Updated: 16 March 2013

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In an exclusive interview with ADI, April Evans explains why she gave up a dream career at NASA in order to oppose the monkey experiments.

Working for NASA

I worked at NASA for nine years, on the International Space Station (ISS), and on ISS assembly. That consisted of over 50 missions to the ISS, we assembled it piece by piece. We worked with international partners all over the world, including Japan and Canada, Russia, and 18 countries from the European Space Agency.

So I have extensive experience with the on-orbit operational aspects of working with the safety and health of astronauts.

I resigned from NASA because of the decision to begin testing on primates. It was the first time that we have done this in approximately 30 years. That’s also about my age, so primate testing has never been a part of my memory of NASA. I had seen some archival photos of monkeys being used in experiments but I really believed that chapter of NASA was in the past. I worked very hard to try to convince NASA to re-evaluate that decision while I was there, and unfortunately, we weren’t able to come to an agreement.

The NASA monkey experiment

The approach of primate testing is to develop countermeasures in space medicine to help the astronauts combat the space radiations sickness, and so the approach with the primate testing is really treating the symptoms instead of going directly to the source of the problem which is the space radiations exposure.

Once they are irradiated, they’ll be brought back into individual cages and be restrained into a chair mechanism where they’ll be forced to do task performance tests on touch screen computers for a period of three to four years.

Safety without suffering

When I was at NASA I worked in the same building as the astronauts, so the safety and health of the astronauts is extremely important to me.

As an aerospace engineer, I felt that it was very important to focus on enabling technologies, which include space radiation shielding. I think it’s a much better approach engineering-wise to not allow this space radiation to enter into the vehicle and to prevent exposure of the astronauts to space radiation. Space radiation comes from two primary sources: The first our own star, the sun, and those are typically relatively lower energy radiations unless you have a solar flare; the second source is from outside of our solar system, and those are the extremely high energy radiations coming from supernovas and black holes – these are the energy levels that we currently do not have the technology to shield against. This is where we need to focus on the enabling technologies for space radiation shielding.

Developing safer space travel

I think that it says a lot that two-thirds of the international space community involved in the space station has said that they don’t see a need for primate testing.

President Kennedy gave our nation under a decade to send a man to the Moon and return him safely to Earth and at the time that decision was made engineers had very little idea of how we were actually going to accomplish that great task. I really believe that my generation should be allowed the same opportunities for interplanetary space travel

Currently the only technology that we have is material shielding which can only shield the astronauts from the lower energy radiation environments. So it is important to develop the enabling technologies to shield the astronauts from the radiation environment, not only for the astronauts themselves, but for the space vehicle hardware that they operate. I also believe that if we accomplish space radiation shielding there would be spin-off technologies and applications that would benefit mankind.

ADI & the European Space Agency

I was very excited when I heard about Animal Defenders International’s work with the European Space Agency (ESA) who said that they did not support experiments on monkeys and they didn’t see the use in the science. I had already resigned, but ADI really helped me because I went from feeling one person, to understanding that I had 18 countries from the European Space Agency that felt the same way that I did.

What NASA must do

We are supposed to be building enabling technologies for space exploration. I believe that saying that space radiation shielding is something that engineers cannot accomplish, and so we have to work on helping the astronauts with medication to help them with their radiation sickness, is not the right approach.

I would ask NASA to re-evaluate whether primate testing is the right direction for NASA in the long term given our direction for space exploration and the fact that our international partners no longer think this is the right direction to go.

Action Alert:

Write to your members of Congress and ask them to urge NASA to reconsider these inhumane experiments. Point out that the European Space Agency, and astronauts, have said that primate tests are unnecessary.

Order a copy of our new campaign video, including an interview with NASA engineer April Evans – send a copy to your members of Congress.

Please send a donation to help this campaign.

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