NASA monkey radiation experiment facing animal-cruelty accusations

NASA's Brookhaven National Laboratory is coming under intense scrutiny this week following complaints that its forthcoming $1.75 million radiation experiment on monkeys violates a score of animal-rights laws.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) on Monday filed an official complaint against the space agency, which approved a grant for the experiment last year to understand the effects of long-term radiation exposure on the human body in space.

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While NASA's lab has maintained the experiment is necessary if humans expect to travel to Mars, the committee stressed in its letter that researchers were still wrong to subject monkeys to such inhumane conditions.

“If you can imagine the profound loneliness of deep space travel, you can envision the effect solitary caging has on a highly social primate such as a squirrel monkey,” John J. Pippin, senior medical and research adviser for PCRM, said Monday. “NASA’s monkey radiation experiments violate scientific principles, common sense and federal law.”

The groups' criticisms echo those laid out by Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) and seven other lawmakers in a letter to NASA last month.

In it, House members called on the agency to cancel the grant for that experiment because deep-space travel is still years of work away.

"A recent NASA commission acknowledged that Mars is not the 'best first option' and that, under NASA's current budget, it is not feasible," they wrote in the letter, dated Feb. 25.

"Since there is currently no realistic timetable for deep space travel, there is simply no ethical justification for putting these monkeys through these inhumane and possibly fatal experiments at this time," the lawmakers concluded.

It is unclear whether federal regulators might agree and ultimately require NASA to rescind the grant. But the brewing controversy could nonetheless spell trouble for the space agency as it seeks to recuperate money slated to be cut from its manned space-flight budget.

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