Science fiction first told us that we as humans would start colonizing and settling in space on some space stations or planets that can support life as we know it. Soon, scientists began telling us the same.
Believing that one day, all nations will have worked out some plan for long-term settlement beyond outer space, a team of scientists in China is experimenting with monkeys to see if and how they reproduce in the area.
As per a South China Morning Post report, a team of scientists is planning to send a group of monkeys to the Tiangong space station, which was completed just last week. The experiment is to see how the monkeys reproduce in a zero-gravity environment and whether or not they are naturally able to do so.
According to reports, the experiment will be conducted in the Tiangong space station’s most extensive module, mainly used for experiments in life sciences. The study is being led by a scientist named Zhang Lu,
Speaking to the Chinese daily, Dr. Lu 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 these experiments will help improve understanding of an organism’s adaption to microgravity and other space environments.
Experts, who are baffled by the news of the experiment, have pointed out that there are still several 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.
However, none of the Soviet test subjects showed any signs of pregnancy, nor did any of them give birth after returning to the Earth.
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, per the outlet.
Researchers also noted that some previous ground experiments suggested that the absence of gravity could damage testicles and other reproductive organs, leading to a significant decline in the sex hormone of test animals.
However, Dr. Kee also said that as larger animals, especially monkeys, shared more similarities with humans and as more nations plan for long-term settlement in orbit around the Moon or Mars, “these experiments will be necessary.”