67 years ago, the US sent fruit flies into space inside a V-2 rocket to see if they could survive the radiation. Thus began a long and storied history of bringing animals off planet to explore what happens when gravity disappears. One of the latest: a Russian satellite called Foton-M No. 4 that was launched into orbit last week containing fruit flies once again. But this time there were also five geckos, whose sex lives were going to be studied on camera — for science. That was until one of the engines controlling the satellite stopped responding to ground commands that were trying to raise the vessel into a higher orbit.
According to a representative for Russia's Institute of Medico-Biological problems who spoke with Agence France-Presse, all other parts of the satellite are working as expected, including life support systems that will keep the experiments running. Scientists are also able to remotely monitor data that's being sent back. However, the geckos have a limited food supply that could run out in just two and a half months, which could happen long before the satellite falls out of orbit and back down towards Earth, says The Guardian. In the meantime, officials are attempting to restore communication with the satellite.
The geckos were one of several experiments
The experiment with the geckos was designed to see if, and how the animals reproduce in microgravity, as well as if there are changes in the survival of eggs. Other projects on the module were designed to study development of plant seeds, microbes, as well as well as the effects of cosmic radiation on various biological objects.
This isn't the first time Russia's been dealt a setback with one of its Foton-M series robotic spacecraft. The first one, in 2002, crashed shortly after takeoff due to an issue with one of the rocket's engines. The second and third in the program were launched without issue, and Russia is expected to do another mission sometime next year.
Update July 26th, 4:14PM: RT reports that Russia's space agency has reestablished contact with the satellite, and could resume plans to change its orbit beginning next week.