Roscosmos: Space Geckos Are Dead – UPDATE

Roscosmos: Space Geckos Are Dead – UPDATE

UPDATE, September 1, 2014, 4:45 pm EDT:   This story has been updated with additional information since its original publication at 11:57 am EDT.

Russia’s Foton-M4 spacecraft returned to Earth today (September 1), earlier than originally planned.   It carried a number of experiments, including biological subjects among which were five geckos.  Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, announced today that all five geckos died.

The cause and time of death will be determined by experts, although a Roscosmos official told the Itar-Tass news agency later in the day that they died at least a week before landing and the bodies were partially mummified.  The official added that hypothermia was one possibility, but not the only one.  Geckos are reptiles, which are cold-blooded.

The spacecraft also carried fruit flies (drosophila), an oft-used subject for biological experiments in space because they reproduce quickly, and Roscosmos said they “successfully developed and bred.”

Foton-M4 (or Photon-M4) was launched on July 19, 2014 and was intended to remain in orbit for two months.  It was placed into an incorrect orbit by its Soyuz-2-1a rocket, however.  Intended to go into a 575 kilometer circular orbit, it was left in an elliptical 258 by 571 kilometer orbit.  In addition, shortly  after reaching orbit, the spacecraft stopped receiving commands, although it was transmitting.  Two-way communications were later restored.

News of the malfunctions coupled with the nature of its passengers resulted in numerous headlines around the world about the fate of the geckos that were reportedly engaged in mating experiments, a fact that seemed to amuse many editors.  In total, 22 experiments were aboard to study the physics of weightlessness, manufacturing processes of semiconductor materials, biomedical products, and well as biological and biotechnological research.

Last week, Roscosmos announced without explanation that the spacecraft would return today (September 1) instead of completing its full two-month mission.  It landed in the Orenburg region at 13:18 Moscow time (5:10 am Eastern Daylight Time).  Roscosmos announced the fate of the geckos soon thereafter.

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