NASA has zapped rats and mice to probe radiation's impacts, but that provides only a small picture, Frank Cucinotta, head of the Space Radiation Health Project at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, told Discovery News.
"Obviously, the closer we get to man, the better," added Eleanor Blakely, a biophysicist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who studies radiation-induced cataracts.
For Bergman's study, squirrel monkeys trained on a variety of behavioral tasks will be tested to see how exposure to radiation impacts performance. The radiation exposures will take place at NASA's Space Radiation Laboratory at the Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York.
"The beauty of this is that we can assess at different time points after exposure, so not only do we get a sense of rather immediate effects, but then we can look again at longer time points," Bergman said. "That kind of information just hasn't been available."
The animals, which will not be killed, will remain at McLean Hospital, where they will be overseen by veterinarians and staff.