Mice, Newts and Lizards Return from Russian Space Mission: Most Died

First Posted: May 20, 2013 08:33 AM EDT

There have been several deaths associated with the Russian space mission that blasted several animal astronauts into orbit. Russian space officials announced that a number of the creatures that were aboard the Bion-M capsule did not return alive.

The animals were first launched into space on April 19 aboard a capsule atop a Russian Soyuz 2 rocket. The 30-day mission involved the animals flying 357 miles above the Earth while the scientists on the ground monitored their health. It was the first mission dedicated to launching animals to space in 17 years, and was designed to allow researchers to understand the impact that space could have on astronauts. More specifically, it was made to see how well living creatures adapt to weightlessness.

"We often have very targeted scientific experiments where we have one investigator looking at, say 'cardiovascular system function,'" said Nicole Rayl, project manager for NASA's portion of the mission, in an interview with Fox News. "This is different because we have nine investigators total looking at a whole organism approach to spaceflight. That's a very exciting development for us, that we're able to bring so many investigators to the table to really maximize the scientific return from this mission."

The capsule itself carried a host of creatures onboard. The animal astronauts included 45 mice, 15 newts, snails, lizards, plants, microflora and eight gerbils, according to The Space Reporter. The spacecraft actually parachuted safely back to Earth, landing in the Orenburg region located about 750 miles outside of Moscow on Sunday.

Unfortunately, most of the animals failed to return alive. A majority of the mice and newts failed to survive and all of the gerbils perished. Apparently most of them died due to the stresses incurred during an equipment failure, according to Russian officials.

The animals that did survive, though, aren't in for a less gruesome fate. Scientists plan to examine the animals and run tests. In order to get the data they need, though, researchers will have to humanely euthanize the creatures.

Despite the mass deaths of so many creatures, researchers were able to gain some valuable information through the experiment. Data is currently being pored over by an international team of scientists. The information could potentially allow Russia to reach its goal of building a moon base by 2030 in order to use it as a staging post for a future mission to Mars.

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