It was shaping up to be the ultimate story of horny reptiles, space adventure and high drama. But sadly for the Russian "gecko sex" space experiment, the story has a very definite anticlimax.
In July, the world became aware of the Foton-M4 satellite that was not responding to commands being sent from ground control. Although the satellite’s systems appeared to be working in an automatic mode, commands from the ground were being ignored, spelling ultimate doom for the spacecraft that would eventually reenter the Earth’s atmosphere.
This fact alone made the story interesting, but when we found out the Foton-M4 had a collection of reptilian space travelers on board, there was an added sense of urgency. Fortunately, communications were reestablished with the satellite and the experiment seemed safe.
The reptiles — geckos that were a part of the Russia’s Institute of Medico-Biological Problems experiment investigating sexual reproduction in microgravity — were sealed inside a small habitat and it was hoped that once they’d become accustomed to their weightless environment, nature would take its course and they’d start having sex, or at least start trying to.
This weekend, the capsule containing the gecko experiment returned to Earth after a controlled reentry over Russia and scientists were able to access the geckos. Sadly, all space passengers were dead. So dead in fact that the five little guys may not have even had the chance to enjoy orbit, let alone try to copulate.
“According to preliminary data, it becomes clear that the geckos (froze to death),” said an agency spokesperson (translated from Russian). “(I)t was due to the failure of the equipment, ensure the necessary temperature in the box with the animals.”
Scientists seem unsure when the experiment failed, but the problem was rooted in the spacecraft’s life support systems that could have malfunctioned at any time during the flight. The experiment wasn’t linked via a live video feed, instead favoring a camera that would record footage on board for scientists to analyze when the mission returned to Earth.
According to an Interfax news agency report, the geckos’ remains were mummified, suggesting they had been dead for some time, however. Gecko sex probably didn’t happen.
Fortunately, the orbital experiment wasn’t a total dud. The geckos’ fellow space travelers, a collection of Drosophila flies, were able to have some time for romance between launch, orbit and reentry — they did have sex and reproduce.
via Ars Technica