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China Wants Monkeys To Go To Space And Reproduce: Is It Possible?
Chinese researchers are planning to turn back the clock and send monkeys to space again. The researchers want these monkeys to visit its new Tiangong space station and partake in experiments. These experiments could involve the mating of animals and potentially reproducing, according to a South China Morning Post report.
While the experiment sounds fascinating, it could land in trouble from animal rights activists. However, if the experiment does go as planned, it could have major implications for human efforts to colonize places beyond Earth. It will also give humans a fair idea of whether mammals, not just humans, can successfully reproduce in space.
Can Complex Life Forms Reproduce In Space?
As per the report, the experiment would be carried out in Tiangong space station’s largest capsule, named Wentian. The monkeys will be kept inside two biological test cabinets that can be expanded.
Once the scientists are done examining the behavior of smaller creatures such as fish, snails, and algae, "some studies involving mice and macaques will be carried out to see how they grow or even reproduce in space," said Zhang Lu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, as quoted in the report.
"These experiments will help improve our understanding of an organism’s adaptation to microgravity and other space environments," Lu added. While simpler organisms have been observed reproducing in space, complex life forms have struggled to do the same.
History Hasn’t Been Kind
Back in 2014, a Russian experiment failed miserably when all geckos died in space before they could produce offspring. Experiments involving mammals have also failed; Soviet scientists got mice to mate in space in 1979, but none were able to reproduce and were returned to Earth.
Simply put, getting monkeys to reproduce on a space station could be a tough nut to crack. For one, astronauts will have to “feed them and deal with the waste," professor Kehkooi Kee told SCMP.
Moreover, the crew aboard the space station will have to ensure that macaques are comfortable, something that experts believe will be their biggest challenge as long-term confinement could cause stress for the animals.
Setting The Right Mood Isn’t Enough
Even if astronauts manage to set the right mood for the monkeys to mate, the physics of the sexual activity could be challenging. As Adam Watkins of the University of Nottingham explains in his 2020 open letter, staying in close contact without gravity is pretty difficult. Moreover, due to low blood pressure in space, it would be difficult for the simians to maintain erections.
With China’s new space station operating in full swing, the scientists aren’t backing away from taking their research to the next level, but whether these experiments will play out as planned remains to be seen.