Justification for Animals Models

Scientists want to know how the body reacts to microgravity. Many experiments can be conducted on humans while they work on board the Space Shuttle3 or the International Space Station (ISS), but many others interfere with daily activities. That's where the use of animals comes into play. And while scientists may not really care how a rat reacts to space conditions, animal data can transfer to human models and help prevent or solve physical issues people face today.

Due to the housing needs and the practicalities of space travel, the lowest form of life is most suitable for space travel. Often, experiment results using snails and fish can be applied to human conditions: inner ear exams can be done in snails rather than highly evolved mammals, and genetic studies can be conducted in fish. While there is not a one-to-one transfer, the similarities are enough to gain necessary knowledge (Souza et al. 2000).

Animals go into space to help conduct scientific research only when absolutely necessary. Researchers prefer to execute research with computer models, or by involving the astronauts directly. For some experiments, however, only animals will work. Sometimes the situations need to be closely controlled, such as a monitored diet. Human astronauts generally aren't willing to agree to eat the same amount and type of food every day, so this experiment would be a burden to them. Animals, however, are, and their feeding can be automatically monitored.

With the use of animals in space biology research comes the responsibility to conduct that research in an ethical and humane fashion. Regulations for animal research are stricter than those for using people in research because people can give consent. Animals can't object, so people need to work on their behalf. Animals that travel in space are cared for ethically and humanely. All research organizations are required to submit all animal protocols for approval by an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (1ACUC). The IACUC verifies that studies using animals are both necessary and that all experiment protocols and animal care procedures meet federal animal welfare guidelines (Souza et al. 2000).

The IACUC and the funding space agencies also make sure that the number of specimens used is the minimum required to obtain valid scientific results, and that the experimental protocols are designed to minimize distress, pain, and suffering. Animal housing rules are more extensive than the requirements for human children day care centers. NASA facilities that house

3 The Space Shuttle is also referred to as the Space Transportation System (STS). Shuttle missions are numbered sequentially, e.g., STS-78, STS-79, STS-80, at the time they are planned. However, because of launch delays due to weather, technical glitches, and a host of other issues, missions are often postponed, schedules are shuffled, and the flights are sometimes "out of order".

Figure 1-05. Ham, the first chimpanzee ever to ride into space is shown off by his animal trainer at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Photo Courtesy of NASA.

animals for research are accredited by an organization that requires proof that animals are cared for in a facility that meets those standards (Figure 1-05).

The professional standards of good science also guarantee animal health and welfare. Not only are researchers responsible for the health and welfare of the animals they use, but also it is in their professional interest to make sure the animals are well cared for. Sick or ill-treated animals are not good research subjects. They can compromise the quality of resulting data or contribute to the failure of an experiment. This hinders the scientists' ability to publish their research. Spaceflight opportunities are hard to come by and competition for slots is extremely intense. A failed flight experiment may never have the opportunity to be reflown.

Finally, the magnifying glass of the public eye is strongly focused on space research. The public, the media, and politicians watch with interest. They want to be sure that things are done properly and that their tax dollars are not wasted (Souza et al. 2000).

Figure 1-05. Ham, the first chimpanzee ever to ride into space is shown off by his animal trainer at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Photo Courtesy of NASA.

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