Russia Launches Orbital "Noah's Ark"

Russia Launches Orbital "Noah's Ark"

Russia launched its Bion-1M spacecraft today carrying an array of critters that will spend 30 days in orbit and then return to Earth.

Russia has a long history of launching animals into space on both orbital and suborbital missions.   While almost everyone remembers the first Soviet launch, Sputnik, on October 4, 1957, that began the Space Age, few recall that the very next flight, a month later, took the dog Laika (Barker) into space.  It was, unfortunately, a one-way mission since recoverable spacecraft had not yet been invented.  

Laika, the first animal in space, before her one-way trip to space on November 3, 1957

The Soviets continued launching biological flights throughout the decades, many in cooperation with NASA.   Some carried monkeys and became very controversial in the United States as animal rights groups objected.   When one of the two monkeys on a 1996 mision, Bion 11, died after returning to Earth, the program ended. 

The Bion program was resurrected in the mid-2000s and the launch today was the first of the new series, Bion-M.   No monkeys are involved this time.  Aboard the spacecraft are:

  • 45 mice
  • 8 Mongolian gerbils
  • 15 geckos (lizards)
  • snails
  • containers with various microorganisms and plants

NASA is a partner on this mission as it was in the past, providing four Animal Enclosure Units and collaborating with Russian scientists on rodent research.

The spacecraft and its cargo will be recovered after 30 days.  Russia’s RIA Novosti says that more than 70 experiments with be conducted “in support of long-duration interplanetary flights including Mars missions.”

Several Russian and non-Russian microsatellites are attached to the spacecraft and will be released over the next two days.




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