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Animals in a "free return" trajectory around Mars and landed on Earth should give great data about the effects from microgravity and radiation. It would also test the life support systems. Wouldn't this be a very useful experience?

Could mammals and other animals be kept alive for 500 days, without any human crew onboard? Have animals been kept that long on the ISS? Would it be in conflict with any policy NASA has for animal experiments?

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    $\begingroup$ There are so many useful things we could do. If we only had the money... $\endgroup$ – Mast Apr 21 '15 at 15:58
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    $\begingroup$ There are lots of humans that would volunteer for a one way mission, no need to waste precious animals. $\endgroup$ – PlasmaHH Apr 21 '15 at 16:13
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Animal maintenance over a long time period is next to impossible to be automated with current technology.

Humans need to be there to manage the animals. Short term, small animals, sure. But problems crop up.

You know how they say "Kids do the darnest things." Animals are worse.

A free return Mars mission is a 2 year mission as I recall (6 months there, 18 back?) but is no less that a year, which is too long for unattended animals.

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  • $\begingroup$ Why would they be unattended? There's a lot of middle ground between a human on board and no attention whatsoever. A robotic system, supervised from the ground is an obvious intermediate solution. $\endgroup$ – MSalters Apr 21 '15 at 19:52
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    $\begingroup$ @MSalters I am asserting that current state of the art in robotic animal management is functionally identical, over the 2 year style timeframe as unattended. That is a debatable topic, but the core point is that current robotic systems are not designed for 2 years unattended either. $\endgroup$ – geoffc Apr 22 '15 at 0:55
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It would certainly be possible. However it would cost a great deal - less than a manned flight but still expensive.

We also wouldn't learn much - humans have already flown in space for over a year (Mir astronauts) in low earth orbit and we now know more about the radiation risks in the space between the planets.

However; if anyone ever runs an unmanned sample return mission, then perhaps a capsule with some live mice could be sent (as on Apollo 17 I think). It would add a lot of complexity and weight though.

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