Bion, trying out an orbital module, was one of the first into space, in December 1983. (BBC)
Bion, trying out an orbital module, was one of the first into space, in December 1983. (BBC)

Mars

Russia to Send Monkeys to Mars

14 Apr , 2008 by

Russia has a long history of scientific discovery and space exploration through the use of animals. Beginning with space dog Laika in 1957, the space program expanded to run tests on other dogs (many returned safely to Earth) and eventually monkeys. Although the monkey testing program was stopped through lack of funding in the mid-1990’s, the nation has announced plans to send the closest relation to humans to a place where no man has gone before: Mars. And here’s us thinking it will be a human first stepping onto the Martian surface…

I must admit, I had to read the story twice before I believed it. Russia wants to send monkeys not only into space, but to Mars. I had an idea that monkeys (or more specifically macaques) were used in space missions in the past, but in my mind this was in the past and would be considered cruel in this day and age. But hold on, aren’t macaques used in medical experiments the world over anyway? Why is it so shocking that macaques should be chosen to pioneer interplanetary travel before mankind?

These questions are emotive (and controversial) and will cause much debate internationally. Many will believe that the experimental testing on animals in the ultra-modern world of space travel will seem barbaric, but there are some serious problems we might definitively answer through the use of macaque space travel. First and foremost, due to the interplanetary radiation we expect to be bathed in during a transit to Mars, by studying a macaque’s physiology during the long journey we may be able to learn how the human body will react to larger than normal doses. The fact remains, monkeys are genetically close to humans, its little wonder that we turn to them for answers.

To this end, monkeys at the Sochi Institute of Medical Primatology, at Vesyoloye near the Black Sea, have begun the selection process for the ultimate medical animal testing experiment. The institute has a long history of involvement in the Russian and Soviet space program. Sochi was the training facility for the first monkeys into space in 1983. Abrek and Bion had a five-day trip around Earth and were returned safely in Kazakhstan and rehabilitated to live “normal lives”. Two years after this historic flight, monkeys Verny and Gordy spent seven days in space. In 1987, Dryoma and Yerosha spent a record breaking (for a monkey-assisted flight) two-weeks in space. Interestingly, Dryoma was given to Cuban leader Fidel Castro as a gift. Following this, in 1989, 1992 and 1996, three two-week flights were carried out until funding for the project ran out. Now experiments have been continued on Earth to simulate weightlessness.

Now, to revitalize Sochi’s history of macaque space flight, they are beginning a two-year program to select 40 monkeys to be sent to the Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow so tests can be continued into aerospace biomedicine. This will culminate in a possible primate mission to Mars.

People and monkeys have approximately identical sensitivity to small and large radiation doses, so it is better to experiment on the macaques, but not on dogs or other animals.” Boris Lapin, Institute Director.

Critics of the program are frustrated by the use of animal testing in any capacity, but remain realistic about the situation. “Humanity sacrifices more than 100 million animals a year in the name of health and beauty. It’s time to think of an alternative to experiments with animals,” says Andrei Zbarsky of the conservation group the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

“…certainly, I feel sorry for the monkeys, they might die, but the experiments are necessary to preserve the lives of the cosmonauts who will fly to Mars in future” – Anaida Shaginyan, Institute Researcher.

This will be a controversial measure by the Russian space program and they are expecting resistance from their European partners. Although monkeys and other animals are used in medical science here on Earth, it might prove too distasteful and cruel for most, but possibly the only means to measure the physical impact on the human body after a long trip to Mars.

Source: BBC

By  
[Follow me on Twitter (@astroengine)] [Check out my space blog: Astroengine.com] [Check out my radio show: Astroengine Live!] Hello! My name is Ian O'Neill and I've been writing for the Universe Today since December 2007. I am a solar physics doctor, but my space interests are wide-ranging. Since becoming a science writer I have been drawn to the more extreme astrophysics concepts (like black hole dynamics), high energy physics (getting excited about the LHC!) and general space colonization efforts. I am also heavily involved with the Mars Homestead project (run by the Mars Foundation), an international organization to advance our settlement concepts on Mars. I also run my own space physics blog: Astroengine.com, be sure to check it out!


34 Responses

  1. Michael Spencer says:

    Here’s a concept: let’s stop all animal testing. There is so much research showing that animal testing efficacy just does not exist; it’s primarily supported by outdated government rules. Laika dies a cruel and horrible death. Enough.

  2. Vagueofgodalming says:

    Monkeys are descended from humans? Who knew?

  3. Ian O'Neill says:

    Hi tacitus, comment removed, thanks for bringing our attention to it :)

    Cheers, Ian

  4. wiston says:

    Go monkeys Go !

  5. tontotoo says:

    I say send humans to Mars. If they survive, then it will be safe for the dolphins to explore the galaxy.

  6. wiston says:

    Mr. Space monkey can I have a signature ? Here is a pen …. You prefer to sign using a banana or monkey feces, because it makes it more personal you say ?
    That’s fine to me it only makes it more valuable !

    Tontotoo I’m really looking forward to dolphin astronauts now !

  7. Laszlo says:

    If you really care about animals then face the issue. How many Silverbacks, Bonobos, Chimps etc are slaughtered each day by poachers or researchers. How many exotic pets expire being smuggled through customs (>90%). What about terminal markets prepairing our food. Overfishing, Whaling, nonfood species caught in nets, the Pacific ring of waste plastic. What about die-offs of fish floating on poisoned lakes. Pollution kills, whether visible or not. What @ drainage of marshes & wetlands, even though they can protect from hurricanes. How much damage has logging, mining, deforestation, desertification killed. What about WARS? the radiation, metal halides, landmines, ecological destruction after it’s over.
    You’re telling me you can compare a couple of monkeys in space w the swath of destruction & cruelty alreaady being wrought by Humanus robotus??? Please temper your hypocrosy, long enough to explore space. The real issue lies in what we’re going to be doing to Extraterrestrials when we find them. Having them over for dinner, or will they be the dinner???

  8. greg your last name says:

    …and Laszlo thus spoke. The word was true. And we all rejoiced.

  9. John Mendenhall says:

    Seeing as how they’re descendents, then perhaps the child protection laws will apply.

  10. gatzke says:

    There’s no way monkeys will be the first.. PETA will arrive the day before..

  11. Emission Nebula says:

    Actualy, thaks to animal testing diabetics can live longer heathier lives. Certain types of cancer wouldnt be treatable if wasnt for animal testing. There are lots of reasons why animal testing has been a good thing for humanity.

    Now before everyone jumps down my throat about this, Im truelly against animal testing, but am thankful for the testing that has saved people lives.

    PETA is an evil lying empire. They kill 1/3 of the animals they “save”. Plus, they have contributed, and done acts of terrorism. PETA should be shut down and the higher ups in PETA should be arrested.

    Sending a monkey to Mars, honestly I think we can send them there, and back very much alive. But why bother. Lets just send a couple of the hundreds of humans who have been training for it for years!!

  12. Jon says:

    Hey at least we used animals, imagine if we humans had decided killing animals was wrong and instead we just did all our experiments on people? Imagine if we were even too unsettled to do that, imagine if we never opened up a human body while it was still alive and all we knew about it was just what happened on the outside and what happened after you were dead.

    Sending a monkey to die from radiation is not a fun experiment but one that will do a lot of good for the entire human race. Russia is doing the right thing.

  13. Rusia tiene un largo historial de descubrimientos científicos y exploración espacial asociado a la utilización de animales. Comenzó con la perra Laika, enviada al espacio en 1957, luego el programa espacial se amplió para realizar pruebas con otros perros —muchos volvieron sanos y salvos a la Tierra– y finalmente con monos […] Fuente: Ian O’Neill para Universe Today.

  14. tacitus says:

    Please delete the racist slur used in the post by Mr. LAME above. There is no place for that on this board, not matter how emotional the subject.

  15. Burt says:

    Can you say “Planet of the Apes”.

  16. Steve says:

    Whats the point?
    There is no way they wil survive the trip there. By the time they arrive after a year, there will be so much waste in that ship thats riddled with disease, nothing will make it.

    Whether its from rotting food, monkey fisces etc, you just can’t expect an ape to be smart enough to be sanitary

  17. Tech Roach says:

    I think its brilliant. I mean, they would have to spend more money on actually getting a man into space. Monkey missions are cheaper since they don’t actually need TV and all.

    And, lets count on the chimp to drive the martians, bananas !! lol 😀

  18. zeb says:

    “Here’s a concept: let’s stop all animal testing. There is so much research showing that animal testing efficacy just does not exist”

    That’s simply untrue. Every time you’ve take a pill or used a personal product, you’re relying on animal testing to keep you safe. It is shown through such testing to be safe. Even products advertised as “animal testing free” are relying on other people doing the testing to show that the ingredients are safe. If there wasn’t animal testing, we’d all have to be a lot more wary at the drug store.

    Now, I’m not saying it isn’t cruel, I’m just saying it’s a necessary evil.

  19. Cynthia says:

    Get your stinking paws off of me you damn dirty ape!

  20. RL says:

    Isn’t any trip to Mars at least a year and, depending on when you leave, possibly two years? Can they really keep an astromonkey alive (and healthy) long enough to perform tests like that or are they thinking of shorter trips but far enough out to get radiation testing? How do you even select a monkey for something like this? Info on that would be interesting.

  21. PENIX says:

    Back when they didn’t know how the effects of space would affect a living creature, they sent animals. We already know what happens in space, and we have equipment to test what the environment will be like during the trip. It is pointless to start sending monkeys again.

  22. Frank says:

    How much does this sound like a plausible reality for our past? I mean, a more sophisticated civilization sending an ape to the earth as a test and having that species evolve into humans over history sounds more like the truth then a seven day religious fabrication…

    I think the Russians are onto something here.

  23. k98148 says:

    Just one step closer to Planet of the Apes.. but perhaps they’ll take over Mars.

    Roll over in your grave Heston :)

    (all puns intended)

  24. iasku says:

    So sending a monkey into space is cruel. But KFC is still good, right?

  25. PHWilson says:

    I’m just damned glad its Russia taking this heat. The USA would fold to the P.E.T.

  26. Dave S says:

    It’s a waste of time to send humans to Mars. We could learn more and at less cost and risk with robots. We will never be able to really live on Mars. It will be like living on a submarine. Don’t kill the animals testing for a ill conceived human voyage.

  27. Wayne S. says:

    If we do not have the courage to go into space, but we insist on sending relatively unintelligent species then we probably don’t belong there to begin with. Ditto for animal testing………………

  28. Code Monkey says:

    Get your filthy paws off me you dam|n dirty Russian!

  29. alokmohan says:

    Sending monkeys to mars will be cruel.A signal from mars wont help us to act.What is all this for?

  30. Jim Brown says:

    Actually sending humans to Mars is much more cost effective. A human can in seconds what it takes robots to do in months. Also humans can build the infrastructure to do much more and go much further. Send humans to mine, manufacture, construct, learn and go on.

  31. coaltit says:

    Will the apes decay on Mars or get dry-freezed or something? What about the possible bio-contamination?

  32. Sending monkeys to Mars is a complete waste of time.

    I would have expected better from Russia.

    Russia should concentrate on getting a few successful probes to Mars first like there excellent missions to Venus.

  33. Seth Eden says:

    “What about the possible bio-contamination?”

    What contamination, when was the last time a human caught Dutch Elm Disease, and when ever has a tree caught the flu?

    NEVER, because people and anamals don’t catch infections or diseases from distantly related species.

    For that matter there is natural transfer of Martian material to Earth all the time and it’s been going on for the entire history of the Earth, however long you believe that to be. If there are bugs on Mars of any kind they’ve already infected Earth.

    Rather then trying to find an excuse to why humans shouldn’t travel to Mars, why don’t you just say that humans should go to Mars. For that matter, just go back in time and tell Ferdinand and Isabella to burn the ships and forget about settling the “New World” of North America cause it’s just a waste of time, nothing but more treas and mountains.

  34. Msmith says:

    Next to this article in google there was an article on sending criminals into space, I think we should do that after having been informed of all the risks a human could sign off that they understand the risk and still want to go, monkeys cannot do this. I bet enough inmates would sign up, better to die in the pursuit of science than slowly rot in a jail cell…

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