“Shame on you, Charles Bolden!”

NASA administrator Charles Bolden was just starting his after-dinner speech Friday night at the International Space Development Conference (ISDC) in Chicago when a young woman got onto the stage and took control of the microphone. “NASA needs to scrap plans to fund cruel and wasteful on monkeys,” she said. “Stop wasting taxpayers’ dollars on wasteful experiments. Shame on you, Charles Bolden! NASA needs to stop animal experiments.”

The audience, initially stunned by the protestor, started to boo her; one person even shouted “Jerk!”. “Hold on, hold on,” Bolden said, directing his comments at the audience. “One of the good things about the country in which we live,” he said, even as the protestor was continuing her anti-experiment rant, “and one of the things I wore my uniform for—I’m still a United States Marine,” a comment that got a round of applause as the audience. “And one of the things that I always told my Marines when I was among them on active duty was that we may not always agree with everything that we’re asked to do, we may not agree with everyone we’re asked to protect, but in the United States of America we serve the Constitution.” As the woman was removed from the room, he said, “The young lady had every right to express herself—maybe not that way, but this is maybe the only country in the world in which she could do that.”

The unidentified woman, according to eyewitness accounts, was handed over to hotel security and local police; she was ejected from the hotel but not arrested. It’s unknown if she’s in any way affiliated with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), who have protested a study by NASA that would involve exposing monkeys to radiation as part of efforts to understand the effects of long-duration interplanetary spaceflight, the study the protestor appeared to be referring to. PETA has been protesting these plans for several months, including small demonstrations outside NASA Headquarters and other centers, although they haven’t stolen the stage, so to speak, in past protests.

37 comments to “Shame on you, Charles Bolden!”

  • G Clark

    As someone who (unfortunately) lives in the city where PETA has their headquarters, I can say from first-hand experience that ‘out there’ is a reasonably understated way to describe most of them.

  • Ben Joshua

    Whatever you may think of Bolden’s appointment or his meandering style in front of committees that don’t decide NASA’s budget, would you agree that in this instance, he was a class act and a gentleman?

  • Agreed. Alas the ‘scientist’ carrying out these experiments isn’t:
    Pointless cruelty for no discernable scientific reason. As I have pointed out at length elsewhere.

  • I guess journalists do gravitate towards the freaks. Also last night at the event, just prior to the events noted above, a young man was graduated from high school by Administrator Bolden, who handed the senior his diploma. Haven’t heard much about that, and it’s a far more interesting story.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    Nothing like a nut case animal rights wacko to brighten ones day.

  • Civil rights activists, women’s rights activists, gay rights activists have all had to deal with dismissive people, the righteousness of those who cling unquestioningly to the status quo. I doubt if anyone decrying this brief interruption in the name of sentient individuals who can’t themselves protest the radiation experiments that are planned for them – in an age of technology that has made the animals’ use unnecessary – have looked into the merit of the protestor’s arguments. If anyone would like to, please go to and decide fairly. One thing bothers me is that this former Marine thinks the U.S. is “the only country” where someone is allowed to stand up and speak their mind. Er, no. Try almost any country in Scandinavia and Europe for starters. We talk a lot about justice, our abhorence of discrimination and prejudice in the U.S., but historically it is the protestors who have had to make our society actually live as if we believed in justice. This protestor is one of those people history will look back on kindly. NASA has made many mistakes from overspending to incompetence and irradiating monkeys when there are superior methods to use instead is another of them. Please learn about this issue. Thank you.

  • One thing bothers me is that this former Marine thinks the U.S. is “the only country” where someone is allowed to stand up and speak their mind. Er, no. Try almost any country in Scandinavia and Europe for starters.

    A minister was arrested and jailed in the UK recently for saying that homosexuality was a sin. In Canada, another has been enjoined from writing such things, in print or email.

  • Smokey

    Ingrid’s quote:”Civil rights activists, women’s rights activists, gay rights activists have all had to deal with dismissive people.”

    You’re right Ingrid, protest is good, unless of course it’s a tea party.

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    Personally, I consider myself someone in favour of animal welfare. However, I also acknowledge that many scientific advances require animal experimentation in order to ensure that human lives are not needlessly risked. On the other hand, I also feel that common humanity does require us to take every reasonable effort to minimise the conscious suffering of the subjects.

    I wonder if these PETA activists would be willing to forego medicine that has been tested on animals… like most antibiotics, allergy medicines and anti-retrovirals.

  • Gary Church

    What about that movie with Mathew Broderick about chimps taking doses of radiation in an air force experiment? Fiction often turns into non-fiction.

  • Troll Spotter

    Ingrid- I see what you’re trying. You win zero interweb points for failed trolling.

  • Ian Erik Smith

    To Ben Russell-Gough,

    It is a strange sort of welfare that you support if it is consistent with this NASA funded experiment. I’m not sure how well versed you are in the details but NASA plans on spending nearly $2 million to expose approximately 30 squirrel monkeys to a massive dose of radiation. To put it in perspective, the monkeys will receive an amount of radiation roughly equal to what astronauts would be exposed to during three years of space travel…but the monkeys will receive it all in a matter of minutes. The likely consequences for the monkeys include various cancers, malignant tumors, blindess, loss of motor control, and even premature death. After the radiation exposure, monkeys will be locked in cages and isolated from their peers which also has serious repercussions for their psychological well-being and will compromise their immune system.

    Finally–if for some reason this alone were not sufficient reason to cancel these experiments–it should be noted that various government agencies have already funded a large number of radiation experiments on monkeys in the past. There is actually a 40 year history of these experiments and they have universally failed to produce any tangible result for humans. At best the results are likely to be inconclusive, at worst they will be so misleading that future astronauts may actually be put at greater risk because safety measures will be based on the results of an experiment involving 2-3 pound squirrel monkeys which cannot reliably predict the human response.

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    @ Ian Erik Smith,

    I was not offering my support (or opposition) to any experiment in particular. I simply was stating that these tests are sometimes necessary and save human lives. I also said that I felt that unnecessary suffering was pointless.

    Perhaps you could tell me what this experiment is supposed to learn? Personally, if they wanted to know what would happen from large radiation doses in space, it would probably be better to expose the subjects to the dose over the predicted period short ‘burst’ doses and long-term ‘soak’ doses tend to have different effects anyway.

  • Ian Erik Smith


    The purported reason for conducting this experiment is to learn about the health effects of the radiation that astronauts are exposed to during travel in deep space.

    You may be interested in reading an editorial authored by Aysha Akhtar–a neurologist with the Food and Drug Administration–who has openly criticized both the scientific merit and the morality of this project:

    That being said, it’s important not to get too hung up on the scientific shortcomings of NASA’s project because the bottom line is that we should not be exploring space at the expense of the animals who we share this planet with.

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    @ Ian,

    You and I clearly differ on that point then.

  • Ian Erik Smith

    @ Ben

    While trying not to be unfair to your position, it does strike me as fairly callous. Are you suggesting that the suffering and possible death of these animals would not matter if the project were scientifically promising…that is, if it gave us something we wanted?

    My position is that to act morally we must take the interests of others into account and that may often mean not doing something that would benefit us. That one derives a benefit from harming others doesn’t itself mean that harming others is acceptable.

    This is becoming something of an academic conversation though…because the experiment in question is both scientifically and morally dubious.

  • Gary Church

    I like monkeys. Except the ones that sling crap. There are a couple of those who post here.

    Seriously…..VERY seriously, this is probably the single most important factor in HSF and it is just glossed over. It is very frustrating when you understand that all these people talking about missions to Mars seem to be completely ignoring the fact that the astronauts are going to be seriously exposed. Add to this the effects of zero gravity and the higher rate of mutation in pathogens in this environment and it becomes a suicide mission. I was very excited when water was discovered on the moon because radiation shield is mass and water makes a good shield; and it is alot easier lifting all those hundreds of tons needed to effectively shield a crew off the moon. Of course the second problem is how do you push all that mass around? The answer also involves radiation in the form on nuclear propulsion. I really wish all these space enthusiasts would understand some basic requirements and stop blabbing about mission BEO using unshielded chemically propelled spacecraft; it is just not going to happen.

  • Dave Huntsman

    While I am not a religious person, I do believe there is one thing that is a ‘sin': and that it cruelty, directed against any sort of animals – including humans.

  • They really do need to stop the testing. I’m sure if aliens came down tomorrow and decided we would make good guinea pigs – none of you would be thrilled. BUT WAIT its for the “greater good” take those painful experiments with pride!

  • Ben Joshua

    While it is useful to debate the ethics of animal testing, the application of such test results to allowable human exposure in spaceflight should raise a variety of red flags, which point to increased danger for space vehicle crews.

    The already stated difficulty of translating exposure data from one species to another remains poorly understood, and is best studied with low exposure longitudinal studies involving a larger population of test subjects. These studies, while statistically easier to replicate (yielding similar results close to the margin for error), take a long time, cost a great deal more, and expose more animals to potential harm.

    The practice of sequestering test animals in pens or cages is time honored, but outdated in this age of digital tagging and monitoring. For social animals, this practice is harmful, and over time, permanently detrimental.

    An interesting, if anecdotal story, for those inclined, is the story of Ham, both pre-flight and in “retirement.”

  • I find it very hard not agree with PETA and others more or less like-minded on this particular issue, although probably not for exactly the same reasons (although I’m not fond of animal experimentation in general; I’m in the “can be necessary but often not” camp). I admit I could be wrong (happens all the time) but I don’t see any value to this experiment and whatever results it provides. In fact I think not only the monkeys but also the scientists involved deserve to spend their time on something more productive (hopefully they should be able to figure out exactly what that would be on their own).

    When it comes to radiation research in general something as “simple” as arrays of Geiger counters buried at varying depths on the Moon would be more interesting and useful, especially if run over a long enough period of time to get rock solid (yes…) quantitative quality (*cough*11 years or more, i.e. a solar cycle*cough*).

    Rinse and repeat for various kinds of modified lunar layers like:
    – Man-made hills of “uniform” regolith dust, loose and compacted.
    – Man-made hills of “uniform” regolith soil, loose and compacted.
    – Man-made hills that include one or more layers/depths of baked regolith using various baking techniques as available.
    – Man-made hills that include one or more layers/depths of sintered regolith using various sintering techniques as available.

    It would also be interesting to have much better long-term (years) data (not calculated theoretical values but real data) from LEO and GEO on various materials at significant thicknesses (thicknesses intended to at least under normal conditions provide a radiation background similar to the mean value of Earth background radiation). They could start with a honking big water balloon with a Geiger counter in the middle… or wrap it around an ISS module or Bigelow module.

    We need to get some real knowledge (i.e. from reality, not computer simulations) and practice on making storm shelters anyway, unless we’re just pretending, but if we’re just pretending then there’s even less need to mess up monkeys and particularly when nothing usable comes from it.

    And it’s not like NASA lacks more important things to do all across the board.

  • For clarity I probably should replace “baked” in my previous post with “smelted/cast”.

  • Ben Joshua

    The lower cost of launching shielding material from the lunar surface would have to offset the cost of lunar mining, processing and launch facility installation.

    Also, lunar regolith is higher in low density metals (about 18% Aluminum, I believe), requiring more space for shielding aboard a crewed vehicle, ergo greater vehicle weight.

    still possible, but not a simple proposition.

  • Gary Church

    I was not talking about regolith- I specifically said water. As for more space meaning more weight, the hundreds of tons of water necessary to provide adequate shielding and living space easily fits inside any large wet workshop space like the shuttle external tank. It does not really matter in my opinion using qualifiers like “possible” and “not simple” because it is a necessity that there is no getting around.

  • Lunar natural resources abound, plentifully, just waiting for some nation to send astronauts to prospect there. Meanwhile Barack Obama & Charles Bolden would have us futz around in Low Earth Orbit for another two decades! Quick Quiz Question: If you had been born in December of 1972, how old would you be now?? Yes, that’s right. THAT’s how long it’s been since ANY astronaut has departed LEO!!

  • Vladislaw

    If you were born in 1803 how old would you be now? Yes that’s right.Thats how long it has been since the government funded a group to travel the lewis and clark trail.

    The trail to the moon has already been broken, the government proved it could be done. Now the government should be the ENABLER for others to follow the trail, not the government itself.

  • Gary Church wrote @ May 29th, 2010 at 11:52 pm
    Liquid Hydrogen is better. Methane and Ammonia too! refers

  • Gary Church

    You are right, hydrogen works because there is so little space between the molecules and the particles will not get through as well. But liquid hydrogen, while it might have a function in cooling superconducting magnets to generate a magnetic field in some theoretical active shielding systems, is a pain in the ass to keep liquid. Water is easy to manage, can be used in a closed cycle life support system to grow aquatic plants that exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide, and it can be moved around inside the space ship if it is a spinning ring to dampen out artificial gravity weight imbalances. Water is great stuff- the only problem is it is heavy. Sending expensive heavy lift rockets up hauling just water is not a good thing. Even the moon has a gravity well you have to bring it up from but it is of course not nearly as deep as earth.

  • Gary…

    So, you’re saying that massive shielding is a requirement for BEO human exploration. For the moment, I will ignore the lightweight
    options that use magnetic fields and other such EM mechanisms.
    Let’s assume you are right.

    Another of the great things about liquid water is that it is compact
    and (relatively) free on Earth. That means a fairly small reusable vehicle can send a nice chunk of it (hundreds – low thousands of pounds) to orbit. Now, the question becomes whether it’s cheaper to launch and install the sift-the-regolith-for-water facility on the moon, or simply provide tax credits for RLV developers who can cheaply launch the water. (After all, losing water isn’t like losing cargo or a small satellite, or a human passenger.) If we can’t develop cheaper access to space with a guaranteed market for water in LEO… we can’t ever do it.

    And, of course, the benefits beyond the cheaper shielding in LEO are pretty astronomical.

    – Jim

  • I was sitting near the front of the room and was recording Bolden’s speech. I’ve posted the “interruption” on my web site.


  • Although I disagree with the method, the young woman is right according to a highly placed NASA official. If you can’t get the word out the “right” way, then you do what you must. The young woman wasn’t booed by everyone and she was manhandled by a member of SEDS on the way out. The police were actually called.

    Overall, Bolden is a great guy and looks like he has the making of a very good Administrator, but, of course, Lori Garver, Deputy Administrator is wonderful in the role and it was good having her “come home”.

    If you get a chance, attend the International Space development Conference in Huntsville next May.

  • Gary Church

    “That means a fairly small reusable vehicle can send a nice chunk of it (hundreds – low thousands of pounds) to orbit. Now, the question becomes whether it’s cheaper to launch and install the sift-the-regolith-for-water facility on the moon, or simply provide tax credits for RLV developers who can cheaply launch the water.”

    I think they will find ice- millions of tons of it. If so, it is the same as earth; plentiful water and easy to process. With fewer restrictions leaving lunar orbit under nuclear power it will be more economical to fill up in Lunar orbit, check everything and then head out. My opinion. I have no use at all for commercial space. I believe it is fundamentally counterproductive to HSF.

  • […] As previously reported here, NASA administrator Charles Bolden’s speech at the International Space Development Conference (ISDC) in Chicago Friday night was interrupted briefly by a protestor, who took over the microphone to speak out against a study by NASA that would involve exposing monkeys to radiation as part of efforts to understand the effects of long-duration interplanetary spaceflight. The young woman got her comments in, was escorted from the stage, and Bolden continued his talk. End of story, right? […]

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