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New Document Reveals Gruesome Details of NASA's Monkey Radiation Experiments

squirrel monkey

In February, PCRM submitted a legal petition urging the Office of the Inspector General to halt NASA-funded experiments that will expose live squirrel monkeys to harmful radiation. Based on analysis of a previously undisclosed government document, PCRM experts have concluded that the monkey experiments are wasteful and unlawful.

A research protocol obtained by PCRM through the Freedom of Information Act reveals disturbing details about how monkeys will be treated in the experiments, as well as a lack of scientific validity and the researcher's reliance on discredited experimental principles. Researcher Jack Bergman submitted the protocol to Brookhaven National Laboratory, where the monkeys will be irradiated.

“This document is a smoking gun showing that NASA’s monkey radiation experiments are wasteful, unscientific, and profoundly cruel,” says John J. Pippin, M.D., F.A.C.C., PCRM’s senior medical and research adviser. “The inspector general should immediately halt these experiments to prevent animal suffering and the waste of $1.75 million in taxpayer money.”

Squirrel monkeys used in the experiments will be subjected daily to restraint in a primate chair, and these highly social animals will be housed individually in steel cages. The experiments involve bombarding monkeys with ionizing radiation, compelling them to perform tasks, and testing them for cognitive impairment. Many studies show that captivity and restraint can impair brain function in primates, making it nearly impossible to assess the effects of the radiation.

NASA has not used monkeys for radiobiology research in decades. In 1990, government researchers ended decades of radiation experiments on monkeys after concluding that monkey data did not translate to humans. Many researchers today use high-tech, human-centered methods of studying space radiation exposure, including human phantoms equipped with sensors and data from manned spaceflight.

Today’s advanced technology enables Bergman to expose squirrel monkeys to some of the types of radiation found in deep space. But these experiments do not represent a true ground-based simulation of the complex mix of low- and high-energy radiation an astronaut would encounter. This includes numerous other high-energy heavy ions and blasts of particle radiation from solar flares, which disabled an unmanned Mars spacecraft launched in 2001.

John Pippin, M.D., F.A.C.C.
John J. Pippin, M.D., F.A.C.C.

PCRM Online, March 2010

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