Russia's troubled experiment to study how geckos, fruit flies and other organisms reproduce in weightlessness ended with a huge downer: When the Foton M-4 satellite containing the creatures returned to Earth on Monday and the hatch was opened, researchers found that all five geckos had died. "We can't say yet at which stage of Foton’s space flight it happened," the RIA Novosti news agency quoted a source at the Russian Academy of Sciences as saying. Interfax quoted an unnamed source as saying the geckos were mummified and may have frozen to death.
The mission has had more than its share of troubles: Foton-M4 stopped responding to commands shortly after its July 19 launch, and although full contact was restored, the satellite was left in an orbit that was more elliptical than intended. More communication problems reportedly cropped up last week. As a result, mission managers brought back the satellite earlier than planned. The news isn't all bad, though: Scientists say the fruit flies thrived.
— Alan Boyle
First published September 1 2014, 11:26 AM