Another Russian Space Failure: This Time the Geckos Got It

Image Credit: Russian Space Agency

The headlines (particularly those from Britain) focused on the prurient:

Russia: SEXY LIZARDS which landed FROM SPACE are ALL Dead (The Register)

Russia confirms death of five geckos on space sex mission (The Guardian)

Sex geckos die in orbit on Russian space project (The BBC!)

But what deserves a bit more emphasis is the fact that Russia has experienced yet another in a lengthy and still growing list of recent space failures. This time it was a Foton M-4 research capsule which was launched into orbit by a Soyuz 2-1A booster on July 19th.

While the Foton M-4 capsule which returned to Earth yesterday did contain five “partially mummified” geckos which were used in reproductive studies, thereby attracting the attention, the more relevant facts may be that the spacecraft which is based on a design dating back to Vostok and the beginnings of spaceflight, failed to achieve the correct orbit after its thruster system failed, lost contact with ground controllers and then came back to Earth several weeks before its “official return.”

Apparently the unfortunate geckos perished in orbit at least a week ago due to an equipment failure, one which ground controllers may not have even been aware.

According to a story in the Moscow Times which contests the timeline reported in other sources,  Sergei Savelyev,  the primary research for the experiment said that “a failure of the life-support system was likely to blame for the deaths. He then launched into a tirade about the state of the space program’s management and its shoe-string budget.”

If elements of this story sound familiar, there is a reason. Last year, Russia’s Bion M-1 launched with a similar spacecraft, and it too contained geckos.  In that case however, a series of malfunctions killed the entire compliment of fish and Mongolian gerbils,  as well as 6 out of 45 mice. Curiously, all 15 geckos survived.

Posted in: Russian Space

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1 Comment on "Another Russian Space Failure: This Time the Geckos Got It"

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  1. bob tuttle says:

    Another Putin “success story”! What a Guy! And the Russian People “support” him-WHY????

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