Lost in Space: Fruit Flies, Mushrooms and Geckos

Too bad Geico doesn’t offer spacecraft insurance. The Russians could use some help, as they hold a large share of both launch and in-orbit failures.

I feel bad for the researchers suffering the latest Russian space program setback, the in-orbit loss-of-control for the Foton M-4 spacecraft, carrying a payload of geckos, fruit flies and mushrooms.

Russia’s Progress space firm confirmed Thursday that the Foton-M4 satellite was not responding to commands from the ground to start its onboard engine and lift it to a higher orbit.

However the company said in a statement that all other systems on the satellite, which was launched on July 19, were operating normally and information from the scientific experiments was being transmitted to the ground.

“The equipment which is working in automatic mode, and in particular the experiment with the geckos is working according to the programme,” said Oleg Voloshin, a spokesman of Russia’s Institute of Medico-Biological Problems, which is running the experiment.

The two-month mission is monitoring by video how well the geckos sexually reproduce in space, according to the Institute’s website.

Progress said the design of the Foton-M4 “allows for the functioning of the satellite in automatic mode for a long time.”

A space expert cited by Interfax said that in its current orbit the satellite could stay up in space as long as three or four months.

OK, so maybe they can’t control the thrusters, but all else is working.

Perhaps the resulting “Russian lizard sex in space” video will compete with the popularity of Russian dash cam videos.


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