Intelligent Life

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

After years of living and socializing in Montrose, Evans's life is scattered in boxes in a small house that she shares with her mom in Manvel. Between paying for improvements to her hurricane-ravaged home – which would ultimately be condemned — and helping pay for her mom's chemo treatments, the money she'd managed to save from nine years of a six-figure salary was gone. Since she chose to resign her position from NASA, there are no unemployment checks coming.

She can barely make the payments on her Toyota Prius.

"Sometimes I wonder if I've made the right decision," says Evans, her voice fluttering and tears forming in the corner of her eyes. "I never wanted all of this to happen. I tried really hard to keep everything inside, but [NASA] wouldn't ..." She trails off, the thought uncompleted.

April Evans posted this photo of a squirrel monkey behind her desk at work in silent protest.
Chasen Marshall
April Evans posted this photo of a squirrel monkey behind her desk at work in silent protest.
As an aerospace engineer at NASA, Evans felt "close" to her projects. On the screen behind her, an unmanned vehicle makes its final approach to the International Space Station — a project she saw from "cradle to grave."
Courtesy of April Evans
As an aerospace engineer at NASA, Evans felt "close" to her projects. On the screen behind her, an unmanned vehicle makes its final approach to the International Space Station — a project she saw from "cradle to grave."

She's been working on her resume, intending to start job-hunting soon, with hopes of employment by Christmas. The European Space Agency did contact her, offering her a list of job possibilities in various countries. Evans said thanks, but no thanks. At least for right now. "I'll probably take them up on it at some point," she says.

Evans wants to spend the next couple years near her mom and seeing through her intent for increased awareness and opposition to the primate tests. With the help of ADI, she put together a robo-call that went out to Brookhaven employees and a video piece that was sent to members of Congress.

This past weekend she returned from a trip to Washington, D.C. She delivered a 10-minute speech in the Capitol building to an audience of 35 people, comprised of members of Congress, congressional staffers and animal rights people. It was the last day before Congress adjourned for the year. It was also the day Congress passed the NASA Authorization Act of 2010.

Evans also had the opportunity to speak with various Republican members of Congress privately. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine hoped Evans's Texan roots and hunting background would sway a few into listening to what she had to say.

It was a positive experience overall. She got to share the thoughts she wanted to discuss with NASA all those months ago. As an engineer, she's long believed that there were alternatives that should at least be considered before resorting to animal testing. For example, radiation shielding.

In his speech on April 15, 2010 — when the NASA and JSC landscape shifted and 5,000 job cuts resulted — President Obama said, "After decades of neglect, we will increase investment right away in other groundbreaking technologies that will allow astronauts to reach space sooner and more often, to travel farther and faster and for less cost, and to live and work in space for longer periods of time more safely. That means tackling major scientific and technological challenges. How do we shield astronauts from radiation on longer missions?"

When Evans was encountering all of the bureaucratic difficulty within NASA, her main goal was simply to start a conversation. A conversation that she hoped, with all the great minds within the agency, would lead to some other alternative than sacrificing more intelligent life. That conversation may finally be happening. All she had to do was radically alter the course of her life to get people to listen.

chasen.marshall@houstonpress.com

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