To many people, the image of a monkey's face peering out from an astronaut's helmet is comically absurd and more suitable for the cover of MAD magazine than any reputable academic journal or serious government publication. To others, pictures of terrified monkeys and chimpanzees strapped into spaceships are tragic artifacts of a less enlightened time.
But just when we think that we've left science fiction behind, it sneaks up from behind and bites us.
While the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is no longer going to the bizarre lengths of actually sending monkeys into space, it is currently planning to fund another cruel and pointless experiment on this planet. The agency has announced that it will spend $1.75 million to fund an experiment in which up to 30 squirrel monkeys will be exposed to dangerous levels of space radiation.
If the experiment, which was submitted to NASA by Harvard animal experimenter Jack Bergman, moves forward, monkeys at New York's Brookhaven National Laboratory will be blasted with a single harmful dose of radiation that is intended to crudely re-create the long-term exposure that astronauts may experience during extended trips to deep space. The monkeys would then be transported to Harvard's McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., where the devastating physical and mental effects of this irradiation would be assessed by restraining the monkeys for behavioral tests each week, Monday through Friday, for at least four years.