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Campaign starts to stop European Space Agency and Russian lab to experiment on primates for Mars 500 space programme

The European Space Agency (ESA) is partnering with the Moscow Institute for Biomedical Problems (IBMP) in a project called Mars 500 which ultimately aims at sending humans to Mars. Unfortunately this ambitious space exploration adventure will harm and probably take the lives of many monkeys before its completion.

In a bid to simulate a mission to Mars, the project is carrying out ground based long-term radiation experiments on macaques. The purpose is to investigate the effects of radiation on the life expectancy of the monkeys as well as the risk of cancer. Experiments will include exposure to deadly levels of radiation, weightlessness, an unnatural diet, severe confinement, prolonged isolation and other forms of mistreatment. Animal Defenders International and the Anti Dierproeven Coalitie strongly condemn the experiments as cruel and unethical. News reports have confirmed that an impoverished monkey lab in Abkhazia will conduct these experiments. In some years, Russia even plans to send monkeys to Mars. They would be catered for and cleaned up by a robot, although such technology has not yet been proved successful, posing a serious threat to the animals.

Yerosha and Dryoma

Yerosha and dryoma, two monkeys that traveled to space, during their training at the institute

In 1987 two rhesus monkeys were raised at the Abkhaz institute, Yerosha and Dryoma, and were sent to space by Russia along with some rats, insects, amphibians and fish on September 29. On the fifth day of this risky mission, Yerosha, whose name means ‘trouble-maker’ in Russian, got his left arm free and started fiddling with the commands of the control panel. It was also reported at the time that Yerosha’s food supply tube was blocked. The space capsule landed on 12 October 1987 close to a populated area of Siberia, 1850 miles away from its predetermined landing site in Kazakhstan. Several fishes died due to cold weather. This experiment on weightlessness was made in cooperation by the United States and the European Space Agency. This was just a 14 days mission, who knows what could happen on a 500 days mission to Mars with monkeys?

In the past, many animals have died in these useless and incredibly expensive projects, the first one being the dog Laika in 1957, who passed away from stress and overheating within a few hours after her launch into space. Oleg Gazenko (1918 – 2007), the former director of the Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow, who selected Laika, never recovered from sending her to her death. Expressing his regret in 1998 he said: “Work with animals is a source of suffering to all of us. We treat them like babies who cannot speak. The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it. We shouldn’t have done it. We did not learn enough from the mission to justify the death of the dog”.

ADI’s Campaign

Umberto guidoni, former mep and former nasa and esa astronaut

In 2008, Umberto Guidoni, former MEP, and former NASA and ESA astronaut supported ADI’s campaign against Russia’s use of primates in Mars 500. He asked the Director of the Russian Federal Space Agency to replace these radiation experiments by other techniques available aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Our call was not heard, and Anti Dierproeven Coalitie and Animal Defenders International are now increasing the pressure and joining forces to stop these experiments. A protest was organised during an ESA press conference in the Netherlands. ADI and ADC have also written to ESA to ask them to stop these cruel experiments, and will be asking European governments to stop funding ESA until Mars 500 is redesigned with humane methods.

The EU is finalising a new Directive on animals in experiments which will raise animal welfare standards for laboratory animals in Europe and specifically restrict the use of primates. The Directive as agreed last December states that: “the use of non-human primates is of the highest concern to the public. Therefore the use of non-human primates should only be allowed in those essential biomedical areas for the benefit of human beings, for which no other replacement alternative methods are yet available.“ Since there are alternatives available to these tests, which are arguably not “essential for the benefit of human beings”, this project would not pass the ethical test under European law.

Let the first space traveller from planet Earth to reach Mars be a human volunteer, not an unwilling monkey!

Take action now!

Anti dierproeven coalitie protest

  • Please write a polite letter for the attention of Igor Ushakov, Director of the Institute of Biomedical Problems RAS,
  • Address: 76-A Khoroshevskoe highway, 123007 Moscow, Russia. Email:
  • Please also write a polite letter to Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA Director General, ESA Headquarters, 8-10 rue Mario Nikis, 75738 Paris Cedex 15, France.
  • Ask them to reconsider their support for these horrific experiments.

Watch our Save the Primates Video

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