Monkeys made it into space before humans ever broke the atmosphere, and now they might beat us to Mars. Russia is considering a program to train monkeys to work with robots for the long flight to Mars.
The Georgian Institute of Experimental Pathology and Therapy is in talks with Russia's Cosmonautics Academy about starting a program to train monkeys for an eventual journey to Mars. The Institute supplied monkeys to the Russian space program in the 1980s, when Russia began sending monkeys into orbit. Now Russia is considering sending monkeys to Mars before putting human cosmonauts at risk. Because a round-trip voyage to Mars would take an estimated 520 days and would subject cosmonauts to high levels of radiation, there are concerns about sending humans on the initial trip. Instead, we may get to see how other primates fare first.
If Russia does decide to begin a Martian monkey program, a biosphere would be constructed at the Institute to allow for simulated missions. While on these faux missions, the monkeys would interact with a robot instead of their human handlers. The Institute is looking to train the monkeys to cooperate with such robots, which would feed and clean up after the monkeys.
Monkey to be sent to Mars [Telegraph]