May 20, 2013
Russian Satellite Carrying Mice, Other Creatures Returns To Earth
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
A Russian capsule carrying animals and biological experiments successfully returned to Earth on Sunday after spending nearly a month in space, various media outlets have reported.
According to RussianSpaceWeb.com, the descent module of the Bion-M No. 1 satellite touched down in Southern Russia during the morning hours on May 19.
AFP reports clarified that the landing took place in the Orenburg Region, approximately 750 miles southeast of Moscow, and the module was said to be quickly recovered by search teams.
The capsule had been carrying 53 mice, lizards, gerbils and other small animals, and the Associated Press (AP) said that fewer than half of the creatures on board survived the voyage. The Bion-M No. 1´s journey began on April 19, when it lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome and reached a maximum orbit height of 345 miles above the Earth´s surface.
Dmitry Zaks of Phys.Org reports that the majority of the 45 mice that were sent into orbit died on the mission, and eight gerbils also died as a result of equipment failure. Other animals on board the vessel, which was also carrying some plants and microflora, succumbed to the stresses of space, Russian scientists said. Nonetheless, they told Zaks that they were able to obtain the data they were looking for — information which could help pave the way for a manned mission to Mars.
“A field research lab was deployed near to where the capsule landed to quickly test the animals' response to their journey and return to Earth. Officials said the small menagerie composed of dozens of individual cages would now be flown to Moscow for more tests,” AFP reporters said, adding that scientists said that the animal test subjects were necessary because they were being subjected to experiments that currently cannot be performed on humans.
“They added that the mice would have posed a health risk if simply placed on board the ISS for a month,” the French news agency said. “The experiment's designers said the tests primarily focused on how microgravity impacts the skeletal and nervous systems as well organisms' muscles and hearts. The animals were stored inside five special containers that automatically opened after reaching orbit and closed once it was time to return.”
Russian space program officials are currently hoping to begin construction of a base on the Moon in 2030, and that facility would be used as part of a flight to Mars, the AFP said. Bion-M No. 1 also contained over two dozen measuring devices and other scientific objects, some of which were externally mounted on the probe in order to measure radiation levels during the journey, the news organization added.