Intelligent Life

When NASA employee April Evans questioned animal experiments, her career fell apart.

Brookhaven National Laboratory would only provide the Houston Press with pre-released statements. McLean Hospital handled the request for comment the same way — with a press release.

In a September 15, 2010 statement, Brookhaven said the experiment is "pending based on the outcome of high-level discussions between the Department of Energy and NASA." After the one-time exposure, "the monkeys would then live out the remainder of their natural lifetime at McLean Hospital ... while being studied for subtle changes in behavior and performance." McLean's statement added that the primates would be exposed to "very low levels of space radiation," and that the exposure "is not intended to produce sickness or physical damage that is associated with other types of radiation found on earth."

When the Press contacted the three parties about the tests, the response from Brookhaven and McLean was to talk to NASA; NASA said talk to Brookhaven or McLean.

After months of frustration, Evans finally had the opportunity to be heard when she spoke to an audience in the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
Courtesy of April Evans
After months of frustration, Evans finally had the opportunity to be heard when she spoke to an audience in the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

The primate tests conducted by Dr. Barnes were done more than 40 years ago. When Bates heard about the proposed testing and Evans's decision to resign, he supported her. His thinking was, "We've already done this, we've got a big database of that type of data, why don't we just go back and look at it after 40 years of more knowledge and learning and experience and see what that data gives us?

"I have no problem with research," he continued," but I have a problem with doing duplicate research that has already been done, but maybe not clearly analyzed."

Bates first spoke out on a respected website,, following a segment about Evans's resignation that aired on CNN.

Right now, NASA isn't saying much, mainly because the issue is "sensitive and classified," and because "the testing is still under review," according to Michael Braukus, a spokesman with NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

April Evans knows the eastern part of the state of Texas. Born April 21, 1978 at Christus Hospital-St. Elizabeth in Beaumont, she lived with her family for a brief stint in Vidor, followed by a similar period in Manvel, and then Lake Jackson. She stayed there from four years old up until she was 18, when she left for College Station. She still wears her faded, gold Aggie ring on the middle finger of her right hand.

When she was young, she had the frame to be a dancer or even a gymnast. Still does. Everyone in the family is tall, at least six-foot. Evans never exceeded 5 feet, 2 inches. "I think I must have been denied milk as a child," she jokes.

With brown shoulder-length hair, a petite frame and a quick smile, she's often identified as someone much younger than she is. "That's great, except when you're trying to be taken seriously by the head people at NASA," Evans says.

Her parents, Joe and Tanja, divorced when Evans was four. After the divorce, most of the parenting duties fell on Evans's grandparents, Drayton and Polly. Evans took ballet but was somewhat of a tomboy. She enjoyed paging through her grandfather's old National Geographic magazines and looking through books in his small library, most having to do with space flight. "He had the space bug," Evans recalls.

The space bug bit her early, too. She remembers watching the space shuttle launches while sitting in her grandfather's lap. It was the only time she ever saw the man with big bones and big hands with tears in his eyes. She drew from those experiences "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."

While most kids grew up wanting to know where babies came from or why the sky was blue, Evans was asking different questions: What's behind this wall? Why do you need insulation? Why do you need electrical wiring? The questions were directed toward her grandfather while he was in the process of adding on to their "itty-bitty house in Lake Jackson" and turning it into a five-bedroom, two-story home.

A machinist at McGill Maintenance, Evans's grandfather was good with his hands. She credits him with her interest in engineering and space. From ages four through 10, "PawPaw" was the most influential person in her life. He passed away when she was still young.

Neither of Evans's parents graduated from high school. Her mom was a "homemaker," and dad was in sales and liked to spend time on his 137 acres in East Texas. She was the first in her family to attend college. Her parents were proud. She chose Texas A&M. Her parents were concerned about the size and cost. She decided to study aerospace engineering. Her parents were supportive, but worried she was overexerting herself. She paid for her education with student loans. Dad worried she might flunk out and be stuck with debt.

That didn't happen.

By her senior year, Evans was certain that graduate school was next. She'd spent the previous two summers working as a research assistant, and had already spoken with professors and advisers about grad programs. That is, until networking and a bit of good fortune intervened.

During her senior year, Evans talked four fellow members of the student chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) into making the 120-mile commute, on a weekday, to Johnson Space Center for a speaking engagement. When the chairman of AIAA found out that a student group had driven all that way for the event, he made it a point to introduce himself.

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