Thursday, December 16, 2010

NASA Halts Monkey Irradiation Experiments

A proposed experiment that involves exposing tiny squirrel monkeys to blasts of potent radiation at a NASA-run facility on the campus of Brookhaven National Laboratory has been halted, according to space agency officials.

The experiment, designed by a Harvard-affiliated researcher, has been embroiled in a storm of controversy for more than a year. It has included a letter-writing campaign by schoolchildren eager to save the monkeys, and protests led by animal-rights activists who dressed in monkey suits and carried placards outside the lab.

Dr. Jack Bergman, a behavioral pharmacologist at McClean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., proposed exposing squirrel monkeys to high-energy radiation in a $1.75-million NASA-funded project. The object was to determine how effects on the animals' brains might suggest how people would fare during a deep-space voyage to Mars.

NASA operates the Space Radiation Laboratory, one of several major research facilities at Brookhaven. The NASA-run lab is the only center nationwide capable of producing the high-energy ions and protons that mimic the supercharged radiation environment pervading deep space.

"We were told we should remove [the experiment] from consideration . . . at the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory," Peter Genzer, a spokesman for Brookhaven, said Tuesday.

Michael Braukus, a spokesman for NASA, said the space agency is re-evaluating a wide range of experiments. "The reality is the decision regarding the primate experiment is deferred until we conduct a comprehensive review of our current research and technology development plans."

Full story here.

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