Thursday, August 5, 2010

NASA Engineer Resigns Over Planned Primate Testing

NASA aerospace engineer April Evans has resigned her position as a space architect on the International Space Station (ISS) program as a result of NASA’s decision to conduct primate irradiation testing after 30 years of non-usage, a decision Evans believes is a major step backward for NASA’s animal testing record.

Evans argues that not only do primate irradiation experiments fall out of line with the Obama administration’s long range objective of developing new technologies to shield space radiations, but it also risks current and future international relations and partnerships crucial to NASA’s success.

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Evans’ concerns and opposition to NASA primate testing have been met with support by the European Space Agency (ESA) along with Animal Defenders International (ADI), a campaign group whose objective is legislative action in protection of animals.

In an April 1, 2010 letter to ADI, ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain categorically opposed the “necessity of complementary experiments with monkeys in combination with the human research objectives of Mars500,” and further declined “any interest in monkey research and does not consider any need or use for such result.”

Evans, a nine-year veteran of the Human Spaceflight Program, served as the NASA VIPER ISS Visiting Vehicles Integration team lead for the past three years at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, prior to her resignation. She is a recipient of the NASA Space Flight Awareness Honoree award, a designation granted to fewer than one percent of the total NASA government and contractor workforce annually for their excellence.

“After much deliberation, I resigned from NASA because I could not support the scientific justification for this monkey radiobiology experiment,” wrote Evans in a letter last week to Samuel Aronson, director of the Brookhaven National Laboratory, which was contracted by NASA to conduct the tests on squirrel monkeys.

Instead, Evans has encouraged NASA to focus on developing space radiation shielding. “Both astronauts and hardware are at risk from the space radiation environment. This is a problem that all space agencies will have to solve for interplanetary space travel. Space vehicle radiation shielding is necessary technology for a sustainable long-term human space exploration program.“ Evans said to ADI. She believes that scientists and engineers should be given the chance and time to advance shielding technology.

Pasadena Weekly reported that NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden defended such experimentation calling it “very strongly peer-reviewed” and“very humane.” However, he did not comment on the growing internal debate and apparent contradiction between the proposed test and the new direction NASA received from the Obama administration. “These tests were proposed to support a schedule for space exploration that no longer exists,“ said Evans. “Experiments on primates only take focus away from the critical need for shielding technology.”

She wrote in her letter to Samuel Aronson that “the planned monkey experiment focuses on predicting how the human brain may function after space radiation exposure. This isn’t solving the problem of space radiation; it’s merely further refining our measurements of the consequences”.

Animal Defenders International has also written to NASA and Brookhaven National Laboratory, urging them to consider their European counterpart’s decision to not conduct these tests. “These tests are not only inhumane, they are also not a wise choice of the times. They are costly and scientifically unsupported. We urge NASA to stop ignoring the overwhelming opposition to these tests coming from the international space community, as well as from its own rank” said Jan Creamer, President of ADI. “We also would like to urge other NASA employees who object to these experiments to voice their opposition.”

In the face of a nationwide budgetary crisis, the costs associated with the planned experiments have also raised concern. Reports indicate that these controversial radiation tests will cost an estimated $1.75 million of taxpayer money. Just two weeks ago, however, NASA announced potential layoffs of up to 5,000 workers, while suspending NASA’s back-to-the-moon Constellation program due to budgetary shortages.

Take Action:

Please write a polite letter for the attention of the NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr. Please request that he reconsider financing such horrific experiments.

Public Communications Office,

NASA Headquarters,

Suite 5K39,

Washington, DC



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