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Russia confirms all space sex geckos died in orbital mission

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Thursday, September 4, 2014, 11:53 AM - According to a press release from Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency, the return of their Foton-M #4 satellite to Earth brought with it some sad news - none of the 'space sex geckos' that were on board the craft survived their journey to space and back.

Launched on July 19, from the agency's cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Foton-M #4 was an experimental mission to study the effects of the space environment on various animals, plants and insects. Included on the 'flight' were plant seeds, mushrooms, silkworm eggs, common fruit flies (Drosophila) and the five geckos. Of particular interest in this mission was the effects of microgravity on the ability of the geckos to reproduce, earning them the label 'Russian Space Sex Geckos'.

Credit: Roscosmos press service

However, when the mission capsule landed, on Sept 1, after only 44 days in space, the retrieval team discovered that all five of the geckos were dead. According to what an official from Russia's Institute of Medical and Biological Problems told the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS: "we can say with confidence that they died at last a week before the landing because their bodies were partly mummified."

The exact cause hasn't been determined just yet, but one possibility is that they froze to death. While the spacecraft wasn't equipped to transmit data back to Earth, it apparently contained recording devices that kept track of the entire 44 day trip. Thus, the Russian scientists will be able to pore over this data to find out exactly when, and how, the geckos died.

As for the other life forms on the mission, they apparently did quite well, with the fruit flies not only surviving the entire trip, but also successfully breeding on the ride.

Credit: Roscosmos press service

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