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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.

{mosads}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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