'Sex Gecko' Satellite Back Under Russian Control

'Sex Gecko' Satellite
Russia has restored contact with the 'Sex Gecko' satellite. Luke J. Harmon/PLOS Biology

Three days after Russia lost communication with the Foton-M4 satellite, carrying geckos, fruit flies and mushrooms, Roscosmos announced it had regained control of the “sex gecko” satellite.

The Foton-M4 satellite was launched July 19, carrying “five Gecko lizards, Drosophilae flies, plant seeds and microbes," and 22 experiments, Roscosmos said in a post on Facebook. While it lost contact with the satellite, all other systems were operational. The Russian Institute of Medico-Biological Problems said the Gecko experiment was studying sexual behavior in microgravity and involved recording the mating habits of a male gecko and four female geckos. Other studies include the generation of electricity using microorganisms and the examination of fungal growth and development in space.

A Russian space and rocket source told Interfax the communication failure likely is a "problem ... with the spacecraft itself, not with the earth-based control center. It may be a malfunction of the command link equipment." Communication was restored Saturday with Oleg Ostapenko, head of Roscosmos, telling RT, "We have conducted several communication sessions, and the link is stable." Roscosmos said an internal technical glitch or damage from space debris may have caused the communication breakdown.

Ostapenko said 90 percent of the scientific objectives will be completed by the end of the mission. The satellite will make a controlled return to Earth in two months and the experiments will be analyzed. For the gecko mating experiment, researchers will examine the changes in the five lizards and their eggs due to microgravity. A 2013 Russian experiment, involving mice, geckos, gerbils, snails, fish and plants aboard the Bion-M satellite, explored the mating habits of mice in microgravity.

NASA will send mice to the International Space Station later this year.

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