It looks like the space race is back on. Over the last few months, space agencies around the world have announced plans to send all sorts of missions back to the Moon and out towards Mars. Now Russia is getting in on the game, announcing a timeline of operations spanning the next 15 years that includes sending trained monkeys to Mars in 2017 and testing a women-only crew for a future Moon mission in 2029.
Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, has had a busy few weeks, first announcing a new partnership with the European Space Agency to send a lunar rover to search for water at the Moon’s south pole by 2020. But now, Roscosmos has announced it wants to go a bit further first by sending a team of trained rhesus monkeys to the red planet, Julienne Roman reports for Tech Times. Right now, a squad of future monkey cosmonauts are training three hours a day at the Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow, learning how to operate controls and solve simple math problems.
"What we are trying to do is to make them as intelligent as possible so we can use them to explore space beyond our orbit," lead trainer Inessa Kozlovskaya tells Victoria Woollaston for The Daily Mail. Scientists prize rhesus monkeys for their intelligence and because they can live for up to 25 years, Kozlovskaya and her team hope that their furry students will quickly learn how to survive a six-month-long mission to Mars. She also hopes that their current students will be able to recruit other monkeys to their squad and pass along what they learn from the scientists.
It’s no secret that animals have a long and deadly connection to the early days of spaceflight. To see if they could survive the journey, scientists sent a menagerie into space—fruit flies, mice, chimps and dogs to name a few.
The first monkey in space was named Albert II, who blasted 83 miles above the ground in an American-built V-2 rocket on June 4, 1949. He survived leaving the atmosphere, but died during the return trip to Earth when his parachute failed. It wasn't until 10 years later that a pair of monkeys named Abel and Baker became the first animals to return from space alive, Karl Tate wrote for Space.com in 2013.
While Kozlovskaya works on training her monkeys for Mars, a crew of six Russian women are spending this week locked inside a mock spaceship to see how well a team of all-female astronauts might handle the upcoming Moon mission in 2029. The test spaceflight is the first of its kind to study a crew entirely made up of women, Shaun Walker reports for The Guardian:
The experiment is expected to be psychologically taxing, but is less daunting by far than another experiment launched in 2010 in Moscow to simulate a potential mission to Mars. That saw six male volunteers spend 520 days in a capsule. A similar mixed-sex experiment in 2000 ended in disaster when two male crew members got into a fight and one tried to kiss a female crew member.
The six women will be released from their mock capsule next Thursday. If successful, they could be on the path to becoming the first women to walk on the Moon, following in the footsteps of Valentina Tereshkova, the Soviet cosmonaut who became the first woman to travel through space.