Professionalism/April Evans and NASA


NASA, the organization that employed April Evans

April Evans was born on April 21, 1978 in Beaumont, Texas. Growing up in the 80's, Evans was no stranger to developments in space exploration in the United States - she recalls enthusiastically watching the first Space Shuttle launch on her grandfather's lap. She recalls developing early on "a sense of reverence, a very high regard for the symbolism of the space exploration program and what that means in the bigger picture of humanity." She was not the only member of her family interested in engineering - her grandfather, a machinist by trade, was good with his hands and taught Evans much about science, space, and technology at an early age.[1]

After studying aeronautical engineering at Texas A&M, Evans started work right out of college at Boeing. She worked on the Vehicle Integrated Performance Environments and Resources (VIPER) team, developing vehicles designed to go into space. After six years at Boeing she was personally invited to work at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on the International Space Station program, an invitation she joyously accepted. [2]

In January 2010 Evans noticed protests taking place outside her office at the Johnson Space Center (JSC). Unaware of a reason behind the protests, she didn't pay much attention to them at first. However after discovering that the protests were in response to primate radiation testing conducted by NASA, she immediately began working to voice concerns to her management.

Evans found early on there wasn't a well established medium through which to express moral concerns within NASA. Complaints she filed would bounce around different departments and ultimately go nowhere. Eventually, at a department-wide meeting with over 150 colleagues including her department head, Michael Suffredini, Evans posed a direct question asking about NASA's involvement in primate testing, and what Suffredini thought about it. He responded, "Um, I'll get back to you. I think that's how they told me how to answer questions like that." Despite being embarrassed by Suffredini's response, she persisted. By March she had arranged a sit-down with a member of the legal department at JSC. According to Evans, he coldly told her "if you continue asking questions you will be putting your job in jeopardy." It seemed like there just was no way for Evans to have her voice heard.[3]

Her conscience would ultimately have the last say; on March 10 2010, she submitted her letter of resignation.

Public ResponseEdit

PETA was very critical of NASA's monkey experiments


Houston local newspapers such as the Houston Chronicle and Houston Press ran features on April Evans. A segment on the Cable News Network (CNN) covered the controversy.[4][5]

Animal Rights GroupsEdit

Animal rights groups reacted positively to April Evans’ resignation. PETA wrote articles about her story,[6] since it was PETA’s protest that originally inspired Evans.[5] Animal Defenders International (ADI) also wrote articles featuring Evans. They also did a video interview with her,[7] contacted Brookhaven National Laboratory, the lab responsible for NASA's primate experiments, and gave DVDs to all members of congress containing a video that appealed to them to stop the experiments, explaining what the experiments actually are, and including the interview with Evans.[8] After NASA announced the end of the experiments on December 8, 2010, both PETA and ADI celebrated with announcements on their websites, claiming the event as a victory caused by their supporters. PETA also gave credit to celebrity supporters such as Paul McCartney, Bob Barker, and Alicia Silverstone, as well as former astronaut Leroy Chiao. ADI claimed its congress DVD handout was a major factor, and also gave credit to the European Space Agency (ESA), Cosmonaut Valentin Lebedev, NASA retiree Jim Bates, and ex-ESA astronaut Umberto Guidoni.[9][10]

European Space AgencyEdit

When the controversy was trending in the media, Director Jean-Jacques Dordain of the European Space Agency (ESA) was asked his thoughts on the topic. He stated in an April 1, 2010 letter to ADI that "there is absolutely no research interest or planning for experiments with primates." Evans hopes all space agencies will adopt a similar position.[5]


At first, NASA responded in defense. NASA administrator Charles F. Bolden responded to ESA Director Dordain's statement by claiming that NASA's primate tests were "very strongly peer-reviewed" and "very humane."[4] To counter the controversy, Michael Braukus, a spokesman for NASA, justified the experiments by stating that they were needed to understand the potential health risks to astronauts by cosmic rays. The data from the tests would be used to help NASA develop biological countermeasures to the effects:

"On Earth we are protected from most of the space radiation by the Earth's atmosphere and magnetic field... The types of radiation and the doses to be encountered in space are well understood. However, because cosmic rays are a different type of radiation compared to radiation on Earth, such as X-rays, the potential health risks to astronauts are not well understood."[5]

Later, on December 8, 2010, NASA announced on its website that it had halted the experiments and would conduct a comprehensive review of its current research plan.[11] When asked to clarify whether this meant that the program was completely cancelled or just put on hold, Brookhaven National Laboratory spokesman Peter Genzer simply replied "That's a question for NASA." Similar tests have not occurred since then.[12]

Animal ExperimentationEdit

A HistoryEdit

Aristotle, one of the first to conduct live animal experimentation

As humanity moved towards the pursuit of scientific knowledge, animals have frequently been used as test subjects. The writings of Aristotle in the 4th century BCE are perhaps the first to document experiments on live animals. These early instances of animal experimentation were aimed at a deeper understanding of anatomy, medicine, as well as pathology. Avenzoar, a 12th century Moorish physician, was the first to use animals as subjects for testing surgical procedures before use on human patients. In the centuries to follow, studies featuring animal test subjects led to many discoveries that are the basis for modern physiology and psychology today.[13] For instance, Louis Pasteur demonstrated the Germ Theory of Disease by inducing anthrax in sheep in the 1880s. In the next decade, Ivan Pavlov used dogs to describe the psychological learning procedure known as classical conditioning. Insulin was first isolated in dogs in 1922, changing the way diabetes was treated. More recently, Dolly the sheep became the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell in 1996.

The DebateEdit

These scientific breakthroughs did not come without opposition. The ethical case for animal experimentation hinges on the idea of human benefit outweighing adverse effects to animals. In other words, proponents contend that the ends justify the means. But what about experiments where animals are obviously experiencing pain and suffering? This dichotomy was understood well by Claude Bernard; widely regarded as the father of modern physiology, he famously said, “the science of life is a superb and dazzlingly lighted hall which may be reached only by passing through a long and ghastly kitchen.”[14] As experiments on animals became more frequent and publicized, groups believing that such experiments are cruel, immoral, and unnecessary arose. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is among the most prominent of these and relevant to the case in question. They advocate for the rights of animals by raising awareness of animal cruelty as well as supporting legislation dealing with animal experimentation.[15]

NASA's Primate ExperimentsEdit

Before humans actually entered space, there were many unanswered questions and perceived threats regarding space flight. For instance, some authorities theorized that astronauts might not be able to survive long periods of weightlessness. In order to understand the physiological effects of space flight, NASA began integrating experiments with living organisms into its rocket program. Primates were a popular choice for these early flights because of their similarities to humans. In 1949, a rhesus monkey named Albert II became the first primate sent to space. He, along with many of his successors, was implanted with vital sign sensors and often under the effect of anesthesia during flight. Albert II ultimately died upon re-entry, which became a trend as approximately two-thirds of NASA monkeys in the 1940s and 1950s died during various experiments. This circumstance in conjunction with animal rights activism led to a major drop-off of primate testing by NASA in the following decades. In 2009, primate testing began anew . For future missions to Mars, a major concern is the long-term effects of radiation on astronauts. NASA partnered with scientists at Harvard University for a proposed experiment to subject thirty monkeys to ionizing radiation similar to conditions expected on such missions.[16] The study’s purpose was to observe subjects’ changes in behavior and lifestyle over the period of a Mars mission. It was postponed indefinitely, in large part due to the efforts of activists like April Evans.[17]

Case StudyEdit

There are two sides one could fall on when placed in April Evan’s shoes. One could follow the path of April Evans, and believe that animal experimentation is wrong. She believed NASA should focus its efforts into different areas. The other side is that animal experimentation has its place, especially if it could save a human life.

Squirrel monkeys were used by NASA in their radiation experiments

Animal Experimentation is WrongEdit

The main idea here is that animals feel and react to pain in the same way that humans do. It would be seen as immoral to cause unnecessary pain to a human, so it should be the same for an animal. Evans believed that NASA should focus its efforts on preventing radiation from entering space capsules instead of mitigating it after the radiation has already reached astronauts.[5] The problem is that mitigating cosmic radiation can be very difficult. The radiation particles come at near the speed of light and can knock apart the atoms in the material it strikes, causing sub-atomic particles to shower into the structure.[18]

Rats account for 84% of animals used in experiments.[19]

Animal Experimentation is Fine When Saving a Human LifeEdit

It would be hard to find someone who would not go to extreme lengths to save someone they know. Animal experimentation has led to many medical discoveries including cures and vaccines for polio, smallpox, tetanus, rubella, rabies, and many more.[20] Countless human lives have been saved or had their pain mitigated because of this research done on animals. However, it is very hard to tell how many animals were killed to attain these goals.

The Example of April Evans and OthersEdit

Morals are subjective. One can look at a situation and have a very different opinion on the ethics of it as opposed to someone else. When in a professional setting and faced with a situation that challenges one’s ethics, three questions need to be asked: 1. Are you going to “be true to your own ethics”?[7] 2. Are you going to try and change the status quo? 3. Then what…?

April EvansEdit

April Evans found that something did not fall in line with her own personal ethics, she wanted to change the status quo, and when that did not work she took it one step further. She took her issues to NASA’s higher ups and decided to quit because she could no longer work for an organization who participated in activities she was against, despite the love for her work.

John Houbolt

John HouboltEdit

John Houbolt, an engineer for NASA on the Apollo 11 project, faced pushback from his solution for landing a man on the moon in 1961. He suggested that Lunar Orbit Rendezvous (LOR) was the only viable solution to getting a man on the moon and bringing him back. He had too much pride for the engineering profession that he would not support a sub optimal solution to the problem. When he was ignored by his immediate supervisors, he wrote a letter directly to the associate administrator of NASA, Robert Seamans.[21] Houbolt is a good example of a professional who would not sit idly by, like April Evans, and took that extra step to change the status quo.

Rodney RochaEdit

Rodney Rocha saw that there could be potentially fatal damage to the Space Shuttle Columbia after its launch in 2003. He had a strong reason to believe that “grave damage” to the shuttle could be done upon reentering Earth’s atmosphere. Being a professional engineer, he could not stand idly by. Rocha got in contact with his immediate supervisor, but was shut down, not wanting to be a “Chicken Little.”[22] Rocha then drafted an email that he was going to send to NASA’s higher ups, expressing the dangers and that a problem needed to be fixed.[23] However, he never sent the email and Columbia was destroyed 16 days later, and all 7 crew members were killed. Unlike Houbolt and Evans, Rocha did not progress his issue further upon getting pushback, and it cost lives.


A professional must uphold the values of their profession and continue to abide by their own personal ethics. There can be no other substitute. One can either be like Evans or Houbolt, and abide by their personal ethics no matter the consequences or be like Rocha and regretfully decline to take it one step further, living with those consequences for the rest of his life.


  1. Intelligent Life, Houston Press, Retrieved 3 May 2017.
  2. The April Evans Interview,, Retrieved 26 April 2017.
  3. Intelligent Life, Houston Press, Retrieved 3 May 2017.
  4. a b Intelligent Life, Houston Press. Retrieved 8 May 2017.
  5. a b c d e Local NASA engineer resigns over monkey experiments, Chron. Retrieved 4 May 2017.
  6. NASA Engineer Quits Over Monkey Experiment, PETA. Retrieved 8 May 2017.
  7. a b The April Evans Interview, Youtube. 2:16-2:08 Retrieved 4 May 2017.
  8. Animal Defenders International Advances U.S. Legislative Campaign against Planned NASA Primate Experiments, SpaceRef. Retrieved 8 May 2017.
  9. NASA Grounds Monkey Radiation Experiments, PETA. Retrieved 9 May 2017.
  10. Victory for NASA monkeys, ADI. Retrieved 9 May 2017. (Could not link directly because WikiBooks blocked it for the word "ad" in the URL.)
  11. NASA Response to PETA News Release, NASA. Retrieved 8 May 2017.
  12. NASA Halts Monkey Radiation Experiment for Now, Retrieved 8 May 2017.
  13. Animal Testing and Medicine, US National Library of Medicine. Retrieved 8 May 2017.
  14. In Sickness and In Health: Vivisection's Undoing, The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 8 May 2017.
  15. PETA Home Page PETA. Retrieved 8 May 2017.
  16. Local NASA engineer resigns over monkey experiments Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 8 May 2017.
  17. NASA Halts Monkey Radiation Experiment for Now Retrieved 8 May 2017.
  18. Real Martians: How to Protect Astronauts from Space Radiation on Mars, NASA. Retrieved 4 May 2017.
  19. Facts about Animal Research, PRO-Test. Retrieved 4 May 2017.
  20. Facts about Animal Research, PRO-Test. Retrieved 4 May 2017.
  21. Enchanted Rendezvous, NASA. p.55 Retrieved 4 May 2017.
  22. Gerstein, M. (2008) Flirting with Disaster: Why Accidents are Rarely Accidental. Union Square Press: New York.
  23. E-Mail From Rodney Rocha, NASA. Retrieved 4 May 2017.