Azara Blog: The Russians allegedly want to send macaques to Mars

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Date published: 2008/04/14

The BBC says:

They won't utter Yuri Gagarin's famous phrase "Let's go!" But the monkeys of Sochi have already proven their worth as trailblazers in space - and now they are being groomed for a trip to Mars.

The macaques will be the first to experience the radiation that poses a big risk to astronauts - or Russian cosmonauts - on any flight to the Red Planet.
"People and monkeys have approximately identical sensitivity to small and large radiation doses," explains the institute's director, Boris Lapin. "So it is better to experiment on the macaques, but not on dogs or other animals."

The institute will select macaques that may eventually fly to Mars before humans do. After two years of experiments the most suitable 40 monkeys will be sent to the Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow, where scientists study aerospace biomedicine.
In addition to the effects of radiation, space scientists want to see how the monkeys react to prolonged weightless conditions, isolation and a special diet of juices and pureed food.
Today Russia is one of the few countries where experiments on primates are carried out.

"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 international nature conservation group WWF.

"I'm sure scientists will repeat the story of Laika, the first dog in space. Today it's no secret that the dog died from the nervous stress immediately after the rocket launch and its dead body revolved in orbit for two weeks."

Mr Lapin admits that his institute has received some objections from European colleagues concerned about the animal experiments.

A researcher at the institute, Anaida Shaginyan, says "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".

Although these animals are a drop in the ocean of animals used in experiments, it still seems pretty ridiculous that this kind of research is being carried out. Is there a single astronaut anywhere who would not be willing to fly to Mars without having macaques go there first? Even if you ignore the alleged radiation danger, the odds that there would be a successful round trip is probably no better than 50/50 in any case, because of all the spacecraft reliability issues. So all in all this just seems like a colossal waste of time and money.

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