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Russian specialists to investigate causes of geckos’ death in space experiment

September 01, 22:45 UTC+4 MOSCOW
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MOSCOW, September 01, /ITAR-TASS/. Russian specialists will investigate the death of geckos aboard Russia’s Photon re-entry capsule that landed on Monday, a source in the space industry said.

The commission will be set up by Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) shortly. All geckos died a week before the landing, officials at the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems said.

It said it was too early to speak about the causes of the reptiles’ death, but “we can say with confidence that they died at last a week before the landing because their bodies were partly mummified,” the Institute’s official told ITAR-TASS.

“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,” the source in the space industry told ITAR-TASS.

Roscosmos said earlier in the day that the fruit flies “got through the flight quite well, grew and bred” but “all geckos died, unfortunately”.

The Photon-M4 satellite was launched on July 19, 2014 from the Baikonur space centre in Kazakhstan. The spacecraft carried specimens for research of the biological effects of zero gravity and cosmic radiation.

The specimens include geckos, silkworm eggs, dried seeds, fruit flies, and mushrooms. The geckos were part of biology experiments conducted by Russia’s Institute of Medico-Biological Problems on the effects of weightlessness on mating.

Another experiment aboard the spacecraft is designed to measure the effects of microgravity on semiconductor crystal growth.

Several hours after the blastoff, the control communication with Photon-M was disrupted, although the spacecraft continued to transmit telemetric information. As a result of the malfunction, the satellite stayed on the support orbit, instead of being placed into the target orbit by its own engine on command from the Earth. The Institute of Medico-Biological Problems said after the control loss incident that it did not affect in any way the onboard life support system and the programme of automatic experiments.

It took seven days to restore communication with the spacecraft, space experts said.

The spacecraft’s flight time was limited to 60 days.

Photon satellites are designed and made by the Progress Rocket and Space Centre for research and experiments in such fields as the physics of weightlessness, space biology and biotechnology, including the affect of outer space on living specimens.

The first satellites of the series was launched in 1985 and operated for 13 days.

In 2005, the Photon-M2 satellite carried out about 20 scientific Russian and European research programmes. The next satellite, Photon-M3, in 2007 performed 45 Russian and foreign experiments.

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