Five geckos launched into space as part of an experiment on weightlessness and zero gravity sexual behavior have perished in the endeavor, according to the Russian Space Agency.
In a statement, the federal space agency (also known as Roscosmos) confirmed that the Photon-M satellite which carried the geckos into orbit had returned to Earth as planned. According to the Guardian, the orbiter landed in Russia's Orenburg region at 1:18pm on Monday, Moscow time. Unfortunately the entire cadre of geckos, four females and one male, perished at some point during the spaceflight.
#Roscosmos: Interior view of the #FotonM4 capsule after landing in Southern Russia today. #Foton #Gecko pic.twitter.com/DzOdTvxDLR
— Anatoly Zak (@RussianSpaceWeb) September 1, 2014
While officials with the Institute of Biomedical Problems (ISTC) were at first hesitant to discuss the gecko's cause of death, preliminary reports suggest that they froze while aboard the orbiter, likely due to an equipment failure. An unnamed source in the scientific commission pointed out that "The geckos could have died at any stage of the flight, and it's impossible to judge when based on the animals' mummified remains," according to Interfax news service.
An ISTC official told ITAR-TASS that "we can say with confidence that they died at least a week before the landing because their bodies were partly mummified." A source in the space industry added that "Hypothermia is not the main possible cause but only one of the options. Others include a possible malfunction of the onboard equipment and life-support system."
Epic space-gecko quest comes to an end. @MoscowTimes waiting to see if they're dead or alive. #gecko #cosmonauts pic.twitter.com/rzJUTzEyjK — Ingrid Burke (@Ing_Burke) September 1, 2014
The mission, which Russian scientists hoped would reveal how zero gravity affected the sexual habits of the geckos, is not the first time that the space agency has lost experimental animals in orbit. As The Inquisitr previously noted, a 2013 mission that saw lizards, mice, and other creatures sent into space for a series of experiments ended in tragedy when the animals all perished during the voyage.
Supporting @iamjohnoliver & @LastWeekTonight idea for space gecko rescue mission: #gogetthosegeckos YOURSELF Mr Putin pic.twitter.com/JN1jN5b4k5
— Peter Gotzner (@pgotzner) July 28, 2014
The experiment was not a complete failure, however, as Roscosmos confirmed that fruit flies launched with the geckos "got through the flight quite well, grew and bred." The satellite, which lifted off on July 19th, was meant to orbit for two months, but returned after just 44 days in space. Shortly after its launch, Roscosmos briefly lost contact with the orbiter, but eventually re-established control, allowing Russia's zero gravity gecko sex experiment to continue.
[Image via Daily Mail]