Russian space gecko experiment back on track

Alec Luhn

Sex experiments involving lizards are continuing as planned after communications with Russia's Photon-M satellite were re-established.

The Russian Soyuz-V carrier rocket carrying the Photon-M biological satellite blasts off from Baikonur comodrome in Kazakhstan, September 14 2007. (AFP)

Will geckos still get it on in zero gravity? It looked like this and other pressing scientific questions would remain unanswered after Russia’s space agency lost contact last week with a Photon-M satellite carrying five of the lizards for an experiment on weightlessness and sexual behaviour. 

But mission control outside Moscow said this weekend it had re-established communications with the satellite and the intrepid gecko sexplorers’ research would continue.

The satellite was launched from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur cosmodrome on July 19 after electrical problems delayed it for three weeks. When it was left floating in space after the loss of contact, an industry source said the geckos – four females and one male – would likely die of starvation within two-and-a-half months, predicting that the satellite would eventually fall out of orbit.

The Photon-M satellite also carries experiments to test mushroom growth in low-gravity conditions and the effects of cosmic radiation on seeds and moth eggs.

The loss of communication was the latest embarrassing moment for Russia’s space industry since president Vladimir Putin promised to develop it with £30-billion in investment until 2020. Two Proton rockets crashed after he announced the sum, and the launch of its new Angora rocket was aborted on live television before being successfully completed earlier this month.

Always a point of national pride, the development of the Russian space industry has become even more critical as the fallout from the Ukraine crisis dampens cooperation with the US. Nasa has been ordered to cut all ties with its counterpart Roscosmos besides those related to the International Space Station, and heavy restrictions have been placed on aerospace exports to Russia. Meanwhile, Russia’s deputy PM for the defence and space industries, Dmitry Rogozin, has suggested Russia won’t accept Nasa’s offer to extend cooperation on the space station past 2020. – © Guardian News & Media 2014

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