China is reportedly planning to send monkeys to its newly launched Tiangong space station in order to study how they grow and reproduce in a zero-gravity environment. Citing Chinese scientists Zhang Lu, who led scientific research for the space state, South China Morning Post reported that the experiment would be conducted in the space station’s largest module, which is mainly used for experiments in life sciences.
Mr Zhang stated that after studying smaller creatures like fish and snails, “some studies involving mice and macaques (monkeys) will now be carried out to see how they grow or even reproduce in space”. He believes that these experiments will help improve understanding of an organism’s adaption to microgravity and other space environments.
However, as per the report, experts pointed out that there are still a number of difficulties involved in doing such studies on complex living forms like rats and primates. They noted that Soviet researchers during the Cold War era managed to get a few mice to overcome the physical challenges and engage in intercourse during an 18-day space flight. But there were no signs of pregnancy and none of them gave birth after returning to Earth.
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Kehkooi Kee, a professor at the school of medicine at Tsinghua University, said, that the challenges of a life sciences experiment in space increased exponentially with the size of the animals used. “The astronauts will need to feed them and deal with the waste,” he added, as per the outlet.
Researchers also noted that some previous ground experiments suggested that the absence of gravity could damage testicles and some other reproductive organs, leading to a significant decline in the sex hormone of test animals.
But Mr Kee also went on to say that as larger animals, especially monkeys, shared more similarities with humans and as more nations are planning for long-term settlement in orbit around the Moon or Mars, “these experiments will be necessary”.
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