Russian Space Monkeys To Mars!

telegraph - Although the ape will be looked after by a robot on the mission, the decision is expected to spark controversy with animal rights groups.

The Russians first succeeded in putting monkeys into orbit in 1983.

“We have plans to return to space,” said Zurab Mikvabia, director of the Institute of Experimental Pathology and Therapy in Georgia which supplied apes for the programme in the 1980s.

The Institute is in preliminary talks with Russia's Cosmonautics Academy about preparing monkeys for a simulated Mars mission that could lay the groundwork for sending an ape to the Red Planet, he said.

Such an initiative would build on Mars-500, a joint Russian-European project that saw six human volunteers confined in a capsule in Moscow for 120 days earlier this year to simulate a Mars mission.

Mr Mikvabia said: "Earlier this programme was aimed at sending cosmonauts, people (to Mars).

"But given the length of the flight to Mars, and given the cosmic rays for which we don't have adequate protection over such a long trip, discussions have focused recently on sending an ape instead of a person."

Estimates for the length of the journey to Mars vary depending on the type of mission envisioned, but the European Space Agency says its proposal for a round-trip mission would take 520 days, or about a year and a half.

If Russia pursues the idea of sending monkeys to Mars, Mikvabia's institute could become the site of an enclosed "biosphere" where apes would be kept for long periods to simulate space flights.

The Institute said a robot would accompany the first primate to Mars to feed and look after the ape.

Mr Mikvabia said: "The robot will feed the monkey, will clean up after it. Our task will be to teach the monkey to co-operate with the robot."

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