There is a long history of animals taking part in space missions. Even before humans made it to space, animals have been used in order to test how long a living organism can go outside Earth and return safely. In 1951 a monkey named Yorick was the first monkey to live through a space flight. Russians are aiming to be the first to send animals to Mars.
A team of experts at the Russian Academy of Science are planning on sending a group of monkeys on a mission to Mars by 2017. They are training four rhesus macaques to travel to the red planet but it is yet unclear whether they will also bring them back. This training, which includes using a joystick and solving puzzles, should make them capable to man a mission with the next two years. All four monkeys were selected based on their cognitive thinking skills and fast learning abilities. “What we are trying to do is make them as intelligent as possible so we can use them to explore space beyond our orbit,” said Inessa Kozlovskaya, the leader of the team responsible for teaching the monkeys. The goal of the program isn’t just to train the monkeys to complete various tasks, but also to ensure that they can remember how to perform those tasks.
At the end of the training, the moneys would be able to complete a set of tasks without any supervision or help. The team is also hoping that the space monkeys will be able to train other monkeys and integrate them into the program. Even though animals have been successfully sent to space, survival rates of these animals remain relatively low. The way animals are trained and handled for space missions bothers animal activist groups a great deal.