NASA Drops Hot Potato

WASHINGTON, D.C.--NASA announced today that it will abandon Bion, a controversial life sciences project undertaken with Russia and France to test the effects of weightlessness on monkeys in space. Faced with political pressure from critics--animal-rights advocates and their congressional allies--the agency said it will not proceed with next year's launch of Bion 12.

Despite charges that Bion is cruel and of little scientific value, NASA officials pledged last year to continue the $33 million program, which aims to collect data on weightlessness for long-term human space missions. But the death in January of one of the two monkeys after the flight of Bion 11 forced the agency to reevaluate the program's technical and political problems.

A report on the monkey's death, due out later this week, recommends improved protocols. But NASA opted to cut its losses in the face of political opposition. Representatives Greg Ganske (R-IA) and Tim Roemer (D-IN) had already begun circulating "Dear Colleague" letters opposing Bion, and they intend to offer an amendment this week to the NASA authorization bill calling for the program's elimination.