HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Cages, monkey masks and black suits. All of these things were part of a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) protest held outside the U.S. Space and Rocket Center Thursday.
The activists were protesting an upcoming NASA study that would expose squirrel monkeys to radiation in order to study its effects. In typical PETA fashion, they made a very visual statement.
Tourists taking photos at Huntsville's U.S. Space and Rocket Center are pretty typical. But what they were taking photos of Thursday was anything but.
Four protestors from PETA dressed up as squirrel monkeys and sat in cages for an hour.
"It's a little different," said passerby Mike Hamlin of Wichita, Kansas. "It's a little different. But everybody's got an opinion. That's why we're Americans."
PETA was protesting a 12-year NASA study that will expose 18 squirrel monkeys to a single radiation dose, similar to what an astronaut would experience on a Mars mission.
Scientists will then study the behavioral effects and any potential damage to their central nervous systems over the natural life span of the monkeys.
"PETA is trying to encourage companies and the government to start looking into alternatives to animal testing," said campaigner Virginia Fort. "We're in the 21st century. There's no need to continue testing on animals."
NASA spokeswoman Ashley Edwards told WAFF 48 News that NASA follows a strict code of international, federal, state and agency guidelines that mandate the ethical treatment of lab animals.
She said the study is crucial to determining the safety of space flight for humans.
"We would not be doing this research if it wasn't absolutely important and necessary to maintain the health of not only our crew, but our future explorers and or tourists that will maybe one day go to space," Edwards said.
PETA is staging protests against the study at NASA centers across the country. The group's original plan was to protest from Marshall Space Flight Center on Redstone Arsenal.
Edwards said NASA cannot get clearance for a study involving animals unless they prove that the research cannot be done using any other means.