It’s been nearly 43 years since last fatal space flight involving humans, when Russian cosmonauts Vladislav Volkov, Georgy Dobrovolsky and Viktor Patsayev died after their capsule depressurised before reentry.
But apart from a few famous exceptions – such as Laika, the Russian husky-cross-terrier who overheated aboard Sputnik 2 in 1957, and fellow canine couple Pchyolka and Mushka, whose Sputnik spacecraft was destroyed to prevent its secrets falling into foreign hands – the heroic deaths of our animal explorers go unreported.
Last year, more than half the 45 mice aboard a Bion-M1 capsule died during its flight, the first Russian mission to launch animals into space in 17 years. And as for the rest that made it, they were euthanised on landing so scientists could see how much they had been affected.
Now, sadly, it looks like we can add another five to the list. A bunch of swinging gecko lovers are spiralling uncontrolled through space aboard Russia’s Foton-M4 satellite and are unlikely to set their sticky little feet on anyone’s ceiling again.
At least they’re all on an excellent mission – to make a two-month long space sex tape for Russian scientists to watch… and monitor the effects of gravity on sexual behavior and embryonic development
There’s also some fruit flies and mushrooms along with them for the ride, but it’s unlikely any will return.
Russia’s Progress space firm said it could still contact the satellite “and in particular, the experiment with the geckos is working according to the programme,” a spokesman said.
But ground controllers cannot start the satellite onboard engine. It can run on autopilot for up to another two months, but it’s currently trapped in an orbit that will eventually drag it back to Earth.
The module is equipped to survive the landing, but it’s likely the geckos will starve to death before it surrenders to Earth’s gravitational field.
At least they died doing (hopefully, for the sake of science) what they loved.