NASA to irradiate monkeys


"NASA to Start Radiating Monkeys," noted Chris Baker (of Wired), "The kind of headline that should be followed by 'NASA to Fire PR Firm.'"

The experiments will bombard squirrel monkeys (like the lil guy above) with radioactivity to explore the possible effects of radiation in space on human astronauts. Warning: eventually, revenge will come. Oh, and then there's this possibility.

[Photo: "Here's Looking at You!" by ifijay, via Flickr, CC license here. ]


  1. Eventually, those same astronauts are going to be whipped through a time warp and find themselves face to face with the super-intelligent offspring of those irradiated monkeys. We’ve seen this movie before.

    1. Reading the article, they intend to irradiate the monkeys with the same low levels of radiation that astronauts on long missions like one to Mars will get to assess the effect of chronic exposure of low level radiation on the nervous system. Hopefully, none of them will die or even get sick…and if they do it will mean real problems for human exploration of space.

    2. The question is: How many will become ill, at what dosages, how, how badly — and what can be done to reduce those effects.

      Like it or not, unless you want to volunteer to be an experimental animal yourself, some other critter does need to get used. Computer models just can’t do the job when you’re talking about whole-body studies, and they’re barely adequate even for single tissues in isolation.

      BTW, anyone who has worked with monkeys in a lab will tell you that the little buggers are a lot less cute than they seem from a distance. They bite, they scratch they throw poo and other things, and they’ve got four hands with which to mess up your attempts to work with them. (For new world monkeys, add the prehensile tail.)

  2. Yes, they’re cute and helpless and adorable – but in my opinion this kind of this is necessary, at least on some level before we send people out of low-earth orbit and into some of the further depths of the highly-radioactive space surrounding us.

    Does that mean that this isn’t terrible? No, it absolutely is terrible, many scientists running these experiments would tell you this first-hand; it can really wear on a person and they aren’t immune to it.

    But, would I rather learn about this stuff in-depth on a somewhat practical level before sending an astronaut into space to experience it first-hand? A thousand times yes. As far as people go, I consider our astronauts to be incredibly valuable resources – and actually, I can think of very few people who I can hold in higher esteem.

    These are people who are constantly putting themselves at incredible risk for science, human advancement, and Earth as a whole – including this species of cute little monkeys. I think it’s important that we do our best to make sure these people encounter as little risk as possible.

    1. @theawesomerobot: Absolutely. A good researcher, like a good doctor, has to have enough empathy to understand what the experimental subjects are going through, because that’s how you spare them unnecessary discomfort… which is actually important if you’re going to get accurate results, never mind being ethically desirable.

  3. I see the title has been changed from “radiating” to “irradiating”. I’m relieved to learn that there will not be a stream of monkeys being ejected from NASA.

  4. from the post: “NASA to Start Radiating Monkeys”

    as typos go, that one actually sounds like fun waste of tax dollars.

  5. I really hope they used the term “Radiating” deliberately. This produces a much more amusing image than poor cute little spider monkeys dropping dead.

  6. Kinda disappointed, Xeni. When I clicked the link on “revenge will come” I was really expecting to be taken to the IMDB page for Planet of the Apes.

  7. If i were in a cage in a lab being subjected to radiation against my will, you can bet your ass I’d be biting, scratching and possibly even throwing poo.

    But we do have our priorities and when it comes down to it, the advancement of human technology is far inferior to the lives of other animals on the planet, which are basically just garbage for us to treat as pooorly as we want and throw away.. right?

    1. But we do have our priorities and when it comes down to it, the advancement of human technology is far inferior to the lives of other animals on the planet

      I have my own priorities, thank you, and I’m very happy with them. To paraphrase Penn and Teller, I would personally strangle every chimp on the planet, with my bare hands, to save the life of one crack-addled street bum. You may have your priorities and welcome to them, but I imagine a fair percentage of the population appreciates such human technologies as polio vaccines and insulin.

  8. Okay, everybody calm down! They’re IRradiating monkeys. IRradiating. Everything is fine.

    Wait, INflammable means flammable?

    1. If you could get it past the ethical review board, I’m sure you could get plenty of volunteers…of course, you’d probably have to pay them.

  9. that ‘revenge will come’ pic – am I the only person that still objects to people mixing up monkeys and apes?

  10. Replace “monkeys” by “cockroaches” in the title, and I wonder if we’d see this article and its outraged synopsis.

  11. Back in ’53 they didn’t have these pesky “ethics” problems.

    In a 1953 operation called “Green Run,” the AEC dropped radiodine 131 and xenon 133 over a 500,000 acre area which contained three small towns near the Hanford site in Washington.

    In 1953, the AEC sponsored a study to discover if radioactive iodine affected premature babies differently from full-term babies. In the experiment, researchers from Harper Hospital in Detroit orally administered iodine-131 to 65 premature and full-term infants who weighed from 2.1-5.5 lbs

    Sorry about the monkeys, but I think this is a step in the right direction.

  12. It’s that “fuck those primates if it helps primates like me” attitude that made America great!

    — MrJM

  13. Actually, Chris Baker was retweeting Christopher Mims. You should attribute that quote to Mims instead.

  14. “The question is not, can they reason? Nor, can they talk? But can they suffer?”
    –Jeremy Bentham

  15. I thought they already knew the effects of radiation on people. Or has all nuclear science since the 30’s been for naught?

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