Iran's announcement that it has sent a monkey into space has caused a bit of a stir. Space exploration- that highest frontier of transformative technology pushing out beyond the Earth- has long reigned as futuristic and radical as science can get. This latest excursion that suggests life can exist outside of Earth's confines re-invigorates the mystery of whether a similar bounty of life exists elsewhere in the universe.
On reflection, all the excitement seems a bit much. It's not the first time a monkey has been launched into space. Ever since the 1940s the US, France, Russia and others have been launching flights containing primate cargo. Fruit flies, tortoises, worms, mice, guinea pigs, cats, dogs and frogs have all been rocketed on one way trips into space too. Space must be dotted with as many dead animals as there are black holes.
Some of those poor creatures perished out of sheer panic in take off. There are reports of monkeys that died in cabin explosions and others were lost through failed landings at sea. A handful survived the round trip but succumbed in post flight surgical procedures to remove electrodes and other invasive monitoring devices. Countless more animals have been deliberately poisoned in their last meal on board, supposedly less inhumane than simply leaving them to starve to death. But most are just lost in space.
To me, it's impossible to imagine the horror these animals must experience. Jane Goodall remarked that the look of terror on the face of one chimpanzee strapped into a high speed slamming seat was unlike anything she had ever seen.
All this terror for animals to pave the way for human space travel, or so it goes. But, and here's the point, not only is sending any animal into space astronomically cruel, it's pitifully unscientific. Differences between worms and humans go beyond the way we look; you don't need me to tell you that they can't tell us anything about the effects of space on bone density. Other inter species physiology varies just as much. And what about hanging mice upside down for weeks on end- the hind limb suspension test- to assess anti gravity effects or testing radiation burns on live animals when human research data is readily available? The culmination of these horrific experiments is as scientifically unsound as they are disingenuous.
Scientists who peddle the sacrosanct supremacy of their efforts are by the same token culpable for a sector that sanctions cruelty. But science is no different to any other sector like art, travel, law and sport. Just as it would be inconceivable to approve the deliberate traumatisation, unimaginable suffering and ultimate death on living animals in these sectors, science should be no different. Science is not an untouchable sacred realm of society and scientists should not act as if it is. In other areas of society this flagrant abuse of animal welfare laws would be met with tabloid outcry, public outrage and prosecution. Yet the mind spinning stuff of space science somehow hoodwinks us into legalizing cruelty in this sector and marks these egos as heroes.
Indeed, space science is about as egoistic as it gets. After all, it's about our goals and reflects our own ambitions for supremacy and discovery that stem from our curiosity and sense of grandeur. This ludicrous side show of space worms and space monkeys is life (and money) squandering clap trap. As valid questions over colonizing other planets gain traction, it is unacceptable to use diabolical methods with unconsenting monkeys as experimental subjects when this is all about us.
For all its cocky hand signing at other super powers and its familiar flaunting on the world stage, this latest step into space by Iran is marred by speculation and controversy. The photo of the monkey leaving is not the same as the photo of the monkey that returned. Some insist that there was a mysterious mix up of photos. Others are convinced the ethers are twinkling with a smidgeon more star dust. Certainly nothing in the way of stellar progress was accomplished from this latest venture.
Back here on planet Earth real science has moved on from the clumsy hazards of trial and error space vehicles that are never expected to return. Until space exploration focuses its research on modern day science and fulfills ethical and responsible obligations that don't involve such extreme violations towards animals, it should remain on terra firma and shouldn't be gallivanting in galaxies at all. There is nothing scientific about dead animals in space. It is just another example of the dark side of science. Its high time science proved it can do space exploration without exploitation.