If some have accused the goals of the U.S. space program of attempting to repeat what it accomplished in the 1960’s, they may be equally unenthused over Russia’s latest launch. In what is generally accepted as the 1,802 nd successful flight of the Soyuz booster, Russia today lofted the Bion-1M biological research satellite. Containing 45 mice, 8 gerbils and 8 geckos, as well as a number of smaller test subjects, the returnable spacecraft was lofted to 357 mile elliptical orbit on a 30 day mission out of Baikonur at 2:00 PM Moscow time.
Also referred to as the “Noah’s Ark” mission, today’s flight is actually a resumption of long running Russian research program dating back to the earliest days of the space era, and the spacecraft itself is a direct descendent of Yuri Gagarin’s original Vostok caspule, a fact which becomes readily apparent when comparing the two.
The resumption of Bion flights after a long period of suspension would appear to be a further indication that Russia’s leadership is serious in its commitment to a renewal, and ultimate expansion of the world’s oldest, and often most active space program.
For an in depth discussion of the Bion program, and some fascinating history behind it, including the desperate (and ultimately successful) attempt to save two monkeys aboard an early Bion which landed far off course in sub-zero weather by building fires around the capsule and covering it in soldier’s coats, please see Anatoly Zak’s excellent coverage on Russianspaceweb.