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Geckos in Russia’s Photon satellite die due to decreased metabolism

September 02, 2014, 19:17 UTC+3 MOSCOW
Vladimir Sychev, a deputy director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medico-Biological Problems, says the temperature factor of the geckos’ death was unquestionable
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© ITAR-TASS

MOSCOW, September 02. /ITAR-TASS/. Geckos aboard Russia’s Photon satellite that landed on Monday had died due to low-temperature-caused decrease in metabolic rates entailing inability to digest food, Vladimir Sychev, a deputy director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medico-Biological Problems, told ITAR-TASS on Tuesday.

He said the temperature factor of the geckos’ death was unquestionable but the reptiles had not get frozen to death. “Geckos cannot get frozen to death, they are cold-blooded animals. But their digestion depends much on air temperature. If it is not high enough, food is not digested,” he said.

Temperature aboard the satellite dropped on August 8 but it is next to impossible to say when exactly the geckos died, since video recording had stopped on August 5, he said, adding however that when planning the Photon program, specialists had feared overheating. “Taking these considerations into account, the system of thermoregulation was somewhat adjusted. It was planned that temperatures inside the spacecraft would vary in a range from 20 to 26 degrees Celsius, but at some point the temperature dropped down to 15 degress,” Sychev noted.

The Photon-M4 satellite was launched on July 19, 2014 from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan. The spacecraft carried specimens for research of the biological effects of zero gravity and cosmic radiation. The specimens included geckos, silkworm eggs, dried seeds, fruit flies, and mushrooms, and 22 sets of research equipment. Several hours after the blastoff, the control communication with Photon-M was disrupted, although the spacecraft continued to transmit telemetric information. It took seven days to restore communication with the spacecraft. The Institute of Medico-Biological Problems said after the control loss incident that it did not affect in any way the onboard life support system and the programme of automatic experiments.

The Photon re-entry capsule safely landed on September 1 in Russia’s Orenburg region. All the geckos aboard it died although fruit flies and microorganisms survived. 

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