WASHINGTON--NASA officials breathed a sigh of relief earlier today when a Russian capsule carrying two monkeys landed safely in clear, cold weather on the Kazakh steppe. Having completed their 2-week space sojourn, the animals are being flown to Moscow to undergo 3 months of testing to determine the effects of weightlessness on their physiology.
While the monkeys were winging back to Moscow, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), a militant animal-rights group, staged a demonstration at the Russian embassy in Washington. Demonstrators waved a banner stating "It's Not the Monkeys Who Need Their Heads Examined." PETA activists argue that the mission, which involved surgical implants of instruments, is cruel and will yield little new data. A scientific panel appointed by NASA disagreed with those claims this summer, but called for the agency to undertake a study on the ethical issues raised by such missions (Science, 12 July, p. 175 ). NASA spokesperson Michael Braukus said the agency intends to do so, but has not yet begun work on the study.
Braukus and agency managers say the success of the Bion 11 mission, a joint U.S., Russian, and French project, now paves the way for the next monkey flight slated for early 1998.
PETA officials, meanwhile, say they're gearing up to lobby Congress to halt U.S. funding for the project.