Does anyone spare a thought for the safety of animals that are sent into space?

Technology has evolved enough to send animals into space, but not to ensure their safety, laments an old-timer.

AD: What would you say if I told you that a primate is on the verge of triggering a missile war?

BC: I would ask you to stop monkeying around...

AD: The news is Iran has launched a monkey into space...

BC: So what does the poor monkey have to do with launching missiles?

AD: There are concerns that the technology used for this mission could also be used to develop and launch long-range ballistic missiles across continents, though Iran has categorically rejected this military connotation to its space programme...

BC: Well, technology can launch missiles and start wars, but why drag a poor monkey into the fracas?

AD: Lab rats, guinea pigs, test animals — take your pick. Unfortunately, these unsuspecting ‘subjects’ are sent ahead to step on the figurative landmines in space so that humans can have a safe passage thereafter...

BC: But how can an animal...

AD: It could be for various reasons — like checking the heat resistant capacity of the shields provided in the shuttle, for instance. If an animal can survive the extreme heat produced by the insane speeds and the conditions that exist miles above earth, then it could be deemed safe for humans.

BC: But what of the poor animals?

AD: According to reports, the monkey sent up by Iran did come back alive, but several animals that were sent into space did not.

BC: Sounds pretty cruel. If technology has taken all those giant leaps that we talk about, then surely something ought to be done to safeguard the lives of these animals... Some of them probably die out of sheer fear as they don't understand what is going on around them...

AD: They are trained for their expedition, in terms of being in zero gravity conditions or eating specific kinds of foods. In some cases, chimpanzees were even taught to interact with the spacecraft by pulling levers for specific purposes.

BC: But then, they didn't volunteer for the mission, did they? Their families wouldn't exactly be crowding around television sets to watch their hero in action...

AD: No, they didn't, but several billionaires have. Guess some of them regard this as a high adrenaline adventure sport that few can dream of and fewer still can afford.

BC: I know, I read about Dennis Tito being the world's first space tourist around a decade ago. 2001, was it?

AD: That's right, and six others have made it to space and back after him.

BC: But what of the animals that didn't make it?

AD: Laika, the first animal in orbit, didn’t survive — but her fate was known even before the mission began as technology hadn’t evolved enough to ensure a safe passage back to earth in the ‘50s. A whole series of ‘Albert missions’ also failed, where monkeys named Albert perished during various stages of the mission. However, Sam, Miss Sam and Ham made it back.

BC: Sam, Ham... Part of a naming convention?

AD: They’re acronyms — Sam stood for School of Aviation Medicine, while Ham represented Holloman Aero Med.

BC: If technology can send life forms into space, surely it should be able to create robots that could simulate these animals and send them instead...

AD: Maybe technology hasn’t reached that point in its evolution. Or perhaps human lives have always been considered more precious than other life forms on earth.

BC: Well, at least the various incidents of animals being sent into space have helped clear up the mystery of why dogs bark at the moon.

AD: I’m waiting…

BC: Because they’ve spotted the rabbit up there, of course!

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