On July 19, Russia’s Institute of Medico-Biological Problems launched the Foton-M4, a research satellite that contained geckos, fruit flies, mushrooms, and bacteria. They wanted to see what the effects of microgravity would have on these species, particularly on their sexual behavior. No one really knows how reproduction works—or if it works—in space, so before we send people up there, it makes sense for other animals to give it a whirl first. Five days later, the Foton-M4 stopped responding to commands, prompting concern for the geckos, whose equipment was working in automatic mode.
The craft never reached its intended orbit. Communication was reestablished roughly a week later, and program officials were confident that the geckos would be okay. Unfortunately, that appears not to be the case. The satellitereentered Earth’s atmosphere this weekend—a few weeks ahead of the planned return—and when scientists opened the gecko capsule, they were all dead. And what’s even sadder, they never even got to have sex in space.