China is reportedly planning to send monkeys into space in a bid to study how they would grow and reproduce in zero gravity.
The animals will be sent to the Tiangong space station. The research would be conducted in the largest module which is slated to be used for life science experiements.
The Independent reports that South China Morning Post cited Zhang Lu, a scientist leading the development of scientific equipment for the space station, about the planned research experiements. He said in a speech: “These experiments will help improve our understanding of an organism’s adaptation to microgravity and other space environments.” Dr Lu is a a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.
It will not be the first time that mating experiments have been carried out in space. The Soviet Union managed to get rats to mate in space during an 18-day trip, but found none of them gave birth after returning to earth.
China recently launched the latest module of the Tiangong space station. Here is all you need to know about the experiements with monkeys:
Can the reproduction experiments work?
The Independent reports that getting larger animals, such as monkeys, to mate in zero gravity faces several hurdles. Including the ability for them to maintain close contact and arousal in space.
Researchers are also concered about the ability to continue feeding the monkeys and how to dispose of their waste during the timeframe of the experiment. The monkeys would also need to be kept stress free during their time in space as stress could affect their mood and how they engage in sexual behaviour.
What is the Tiangong space station?
Tiangong is a Chinese space station which is currently under construction and slated to be completed over the coming years. The name translates to Palace in the Sky.
Work on the construction of Tiangong is based on experience gained from building the precursors, Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2, which were both prototype space stations. The former orbited the earth between 2011 and 2018, with the later being launched in 2016 and deorbited in 2019.
It is currently compromised of three modules but is expected to be expanded to six by the time it is completed. The first module - Tianhe - was launched in April 2021.
The most recent module - Mengtian - was launched on Halloween (31 October) this year. The fourth moduel is currently slated for launch in December 2023.
Tiangong will be operated by the China Manned Space Agency. CMSA has said that the purpose for the space station is to “develop and gain experience in spacecraft rendezvous technology, permanent human operations in orbit, long-term autonomous spaceflight of the space station, regenerative life support technology and autonomous cargo and fuel supply technology”.
The space station is currently manned by a crew of three but this is set to expand to six by the end of 2022, CNN has reported. Chen Dong is the current commander of the space station and there is one other male astronaut and a female astronaut aboard Tiangong.