A member of Congress has called for an investigation into why all of NASA's 27 space monkeys were put to their deaths last year instead of being sent to a sanctuary to retire. NASA's Ames research centre euthanised all the primates in one day on February 2, 2019 due to their age and health conditions.

US Representative Kathleen Rice said she has been pushing for humane retirement policies for all test animals in government labs paving the way for animal-rights activists to condemn NASA's rash decision instead of finding a suitable retirement sanctuary for the monkeys.

She has called on NASA chief Jim Bridenstine to investigate the mass euthanasia arguing that the animals could have lived their lives in a sanctuary rather than waste their lives away in captivity and then get sent to their deaths.

According to an article on the Daily Mail, the animals were ageing fast and most were suffering from Parkinson's disease. However, activists argue they were not being used for research but were merely held captive in a lab by a private drug research company renting space at Ames.

The monkeys held captive at Ames research centre were not owned by NASA but by LifeSource BioMedical, which is a private drug research company leasing the space at the site. Knowing the state of health of the monkeys, LifeSource BioMedical director Stephanie Solis said the company had agreed to take the monkeys years ago since finding a home for them could prove highly impossible.

"We agreed to accept the animals, acting as a sanctuary and providing all care at our own cost, until their advanced age and declining health resulted in a decision to humanely euthanize to avoid a poor quality of life," Solis said.

LifeSource maintains the animals were not used for research and insisted they had a good remaining quality of life.

Animal ethics expert John Gluck heavily criticised NASA's disposal arguing that the space agency could have shown some expression of simple decency.

"The animals were suffering the ethological deprivations and frustrations inherent in laboratory life," Gluck said.

On the other hand, a spokesperson from NASA said the agency does not have any non-human primates within NASA or NASA-funded facilities.

The very first monkey the US has killed was in 1948, when NASA launched Albert, a rhesus monkey into space aboard a V2 rocket. Albert died of suffocation during his journey.

Monkey In Space
A monkey named Albert II entered the space in June 14, 1949. Albert II died on impact after a parachute failure. Wikicommons/ NASA