Thursday, December 24, 2009

Monkeys on Mars


Here's the movie George Clooney should be making. Scott found an interesting page on IO9 that claimed Monkeys May Be Headed to Mars, describing a program to train monkeys to work with robots, which can feed and clean up after them during the trip:

"The Georgian Institute of Experimental Pathology & Therapy is in talks with Russia's Cosmonautics Academy about a program to train monkeys for a journey to Mars. The Institute supplied monkeys in the 1980s, when Russia began sending monkeys into orbit. Because a round-trip voyage would take an estimated 520 days and would subject cosmonauts to high levels of radiation, there are concerns about sending humans. We may see how other primates fare first."

I combed the net for other mentions, finding tidbits in various outlets (nothing on the official websites of the participating agencies just yet – perhaps this was designed to test the waters?), and was not surprised to discover a relation to Mars500, the joint Roskosmos/ESA habitat simulations.

Space Monkey
The Independent ran the most comprehensive view in an article called Stalin's Space Monkeys -- a detailed look at the controversial history of the institute, ground-breaking disease research, their more disturbing experiments up through the Cold War, plus their role in training monkeys to carry out functions in space before perestroika devastated much of the scientific work carried out across the former Soviet Union.

Only one article cites possible "ethical difficulties," and they only casually discuss the inherent obstacles to training. Director of the Institute, Zurab Mikvabia, was quoted as saying, "Technicians say it's not difficult to build such a robot. The hard part is teaching the monkey to cooperate with the robot."

Y’think?? A macaque named Yerosha was raised and trained at the institute, and went into space in 1987. During his flight, he freed one of his paws from his encasement. Alarmed scientists on the ground could only watch helplessly as he tore sensors from his body and started randomly pressing buttons in his spacecraft. What might one do to a robot he dislikes?

Monkeys to Mars?
I found numerous other articles, but they all similarly raise more questions than they answer:

Mars Daily: War-Torn Nursery Hopes To Send Monkeys To Mars

UK Telegraph: Monkey To Be Sent To Mars

Popular Science: Former Soviet Monkey Nursery Wants To Send Ape To Mars

Warning to biological pet-peevists: most of the reporting journalists do not know the difference between "monkeys" and "apes."

Baboons, macaques and chimpanzees are all mentioned, though it’s not clear which species may be chosen for training. I’m usually excited about any "simulation" news by any space program, but I honestly cannot decide how I feel about this one.

Existing tests show that primate immune systems are seriously weakened when exposed to the radiation levels of solar flares, and we’d be using these animals to gauge the severity and longevity of such side effects.

I know there are multiple centers all over the world where primates face far worse ordeals than being fed by robots – maybe even worse ordeals than launching out of Earth’s atmosphere... but in the long run, I have a hard time believing this wouldn’t end up being a one-way trip for the animals.


Kuday said...

Here is my answer :))

PillowNaut said...

LOL, good toon! Well, if monkeys could do THAT, we'd have nothing to worry about ;)

Norman Copeland said...

Worrying could perhaps be an excellent training technique for the monkeys that could possibly be chosen to travel to Mars.

What would a 32 degree reentry effect have on a 7 pound monkey utilising Pascals at equatorial epicentre for a previous of 3 million years considering the planets retrograde, seasonal area pressure and arc to LEO [light refractive index neuron transmission]...

It could possibly be a new species if it completes the math/journey...

Norman Copeland said...

A 560 day journey for a monkey would need a simplistic analysis that considers weight loss not because of body inactive excercise of gravitational pressure on the body maintaining shape, it is not weightlessness that is responsible for weightloss, but, heat.

A journey of 560 days is 560 sunsets [19 hours of heat per day in an african equatorial region]. A loss of 560 sunsets to a monkeys Circadian rhythym would destabilise the suprachaismatic nuecleus and by my estimations would cause the monkey mental collapse after approximately three weeks...

If the monkey did survive which I believe it would due to the activation of the zona reticularis enhancements a 32 degree re entry would certainly compound the memory...

Iron injections would help, but, a monkeys red blood cell's would be hard pushed and I don't beleive it's body is big enough to cope with the plasma exertions stressed without it's usual sun light exposure...

Robot's... Not if we want to evolve.

brian said...

Thanks for sharing this. Very interesting!

Darryl, Phoenix said...

I see what you mean about not knowing how to feel. We all know that animal testing goes on, but it's harsh realities, well, we prefer not to think about them. I gather I was among many who naively assumes we could simulate everything on the ground safely with humans these days, and I hope there is no need for this program. Then there is another part of my brain that wonders if they could pull it off?

Anonymous said...

Well I agree but I think the list inform should prepare more info then it has.