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Instead of shooting up monkeys with radionuclides approximating some contrived correlation between large intravenous doses versus months of external cosmic radiation exposure, the Italians are cutting straight to the chase.

“ALTEA will measure the particle flux in the U.S. Lab on the International Space Station (ISS), being able to discriminate the type of particles, to measure their trajectories and the delivered energies. This will provide in-depth information on the radiation experienced and its impact on the nervous systems and visual perception. ALTEA will also develop new risk parameters and possible countermeasures aimed at the functional central nervous system risks.”

The Italian Space Agency’s experiment, launched on a Russian Soyuz rocket to ISS, will use an electroencephalograph (EEG) to measure the brain activity of crewmembers to determine if gamma radiation causes changes in the electrophysiology of the brain in real time.

“The neurophysiologic effects of cosmic radiation in long term space travel have never been explored with the depth of the ALTEA experiment,” reads the ALTEA page on NASA. “Data collected will help quantify risks to astronauts on future long distance space missions and propose optimized countermeasures.””

Presumably, the folks at NASA are aware of this experiment, which is looking for the very same answers that the squirrel monkey study ostensibly is. But there are two major differences between the Italian and American experiments: the Italians are studying the actual animals that tests are meant for – humans, not monkeys.

It also won’t cost $1.75 million taxpayer dollars, and the lives of up to 28 squirrel monkeys zapped by gamma radiation, to read the results. NASA may have to buy an English-Italian dictionary but that pretty much covers it.

It certainly won’t be as easy as translating another country’s experiment to figure out how hot it gets in space. President Obama will have to overcome Congressional pressure to continue a costly and scientifically dubious manned space program. That will be no easy mission to accomplish.

The American people, however, may prove pivotal in pressuring their legislators to support a robust robotic space exploration that would benefit tremendously from the dollars freed up by deep-sixing Constellation. Some, like Southwick, would certainly be satisfied if NASA finally jettisoned the remnants of its Nazi past.

Inhumane primate experiments and the exorbitant and expensive dreams of human space conquest may disappear into a stellar black hole like that created by the gravitational collapse of a massive dying star. Like the resultant supernova explosion that accompanies such a collapse, NASA’s robotic space program could then burst out with renewed brilliance.

It would be one small step for monkeys, one giant leap for robots.

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  1. Before we begin colonizing other planets, we should probably first learn to peacefully coexist with the animals on this planet rather than treating them as resources that we are free to exploit.

    Readers can contact NASA Administrator Charles Bolden via PETA’s online Action Alert: http://www.peta.org/nasa

  2. I grew up in the 1960s and we were the dead center target of a generation raised to expect and adore space exploration. It was supposed to prove that we were better than everyone else. Such a sad commentary on what has become the ultimately corrupt core of that concept that its legacy has been reduced to a plan to torture a small group of little monkeys. As Michael points out, we already know what happens when a living creature is nuked with radiation. It is not good. So what is the point? Aside from satiating someone’s sadism or someone’s incomprehensible indifference to suffering, it must ultimately be about a lot of money. A lot. It is always the money.

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