A Russian spacecraft that carried geckos to understand their sex development and lives died in space. The reptiles did not die due to cosmic sex but because of hypothermia.
The Russian Federal Space Agency, commonly called Roscosmos, sent five geckos, four males and one female, to space aboard a Russian Foton-M4 satellite as an effort towards a microbiology experiment to study reproduction in microgravity.
The spacecraft with the geckos was launched from the Earth on July 19 this year and ground control staffs were facing issues ever since the launch. The spacecraft lost communications with ground control and scientists were unable to receive or send any signals to the spacecraft. However, Roscosmos was able to establish a communication link with Foton-M4 again within a few days.
Vladimir Sychev, a deputy director of the Institute of Medico-Biological Problems, revealed to media that as geckos are cold-blooded, they did not freeze to death. However, a sudden drop in temperature from 68 to 79 degrees Fahrenheit to about 59 degrees Fahrenheit affected the metabolism activity of the geckos and they died as they were unable to digest food.
"According to preliminary data, it becomes clear that the geckos are cold. Rather, it was due to the failure of the equipment, ensure the necessary temperature in the box with the animals," says a Roscosmos spokesperson (translated from Russian).
The Russian space agency also revealed that the heating system of the spacecraft failed in early August, which caused the temperature within the spacecraft to drop. The satellite's web cameras installed to keep a watch on the geckos also malfunctioned. The scientists say it is difficult to confirm the exact date when the geckos died. However, they believe that the geckos died at least a week before the recent landing as their bodies were partly mummified.
Scientists find it unfortunate that the geckos have died and the mission failed. However, the scientists are also happy that they were able to take control of the spacecraft and bring it back safely to the Earth. The Foton-M4 was also installed with experimental instruments outside the spacecraft. The scientists say that the equipment returned without any major damage caused while exiting or entering the Earth's atmosphere.
Roscosmos is expected to appoint an emergency committee that will confirm the exact reason of death for the geckos on board the Foton-M4.