A Foton-M satellite, carrying out sex studies in space, has been lost with five geckos on board. It launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 19 July, and communications with the vehicle blacked out on the first day of the mission.

Geckos were the subject of experiments on sex and reproduction in space, managed by Russian controllers. The geckos were used in eight experiments, during which it was per-supposed the animals would mate and reproduce.

"The biological experiments started as soon as the satellite was launched. The scientific equipment used for the experiments operates properly. We receive the telemetry data from the spacecraft and analyze it... The current tasks have so far been fulfilled," Oleg Voloshin, press secretary for the Institute of Biomedical Problems (IBMP), said.

In addition to the experiments in gecko mating an reproduction, mission planners are also conducting experiments in the growth of semiconductor materials. Additional animals, as well as plants, are being studied to measure the effects of microgravity on biological systems.

The lizard crew consists of one female adult and four males.

The space vehicle is not responding to commands from mission commanders on the ground. This could indicate complete mission failure, or just a temporary data loss. The vehicle is currently in a low-Earth orbit. A command to fire engines for a boost to a higher, more stable orbit, was not received by the craft. The highly-elliptical orbit traveled by the lizards brings the vehicle as close as 160 miles from the surface of the Earth, to more than 350 feet above our home world.

Despite the loss of communications with the vehicle, life support systems aboard the biosatellite are still operational. Russian controllers believe the animals are nearly certain to reproduce. Fruit flies also aboard the incommunicado spacecraft are also believed to be in near-perfect health.

"The conditions in the bio capsule are quite comfortable and we assume that they will soon start to reproduce. After all, it was one of the main missions of the scientific program," an associate for the IBMP told the press.

Telemetry data is still being received from the craft, confirming the vehicle is capable of maintaining a healthy environment for the animals for a significant amount of time. Design specifications for the Foton-M required the vehicle be capable of long periods of autonomous operation.

This mission is the fifth in a series of experiments, and the most advanced flight in the program so far. Equipment aboard the craft is capable of carrying out 22 different experiments. The geckos and fruit flies, along with fungi also launched aboard the craft, were scheduled to be ejected after two months, and land safely back in Russia.

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