Russian Space Lizards: How Many Animals Survived The Recent Space Mission?
The Russian space lizards and their animal friends have come home.
A Russian space capsule containing lizards, gerbils, mice and newts has landed on Earth after spending a month in space, the longest experiment of its kind.
Scientists subjected the animals to over 70 tests before, during and after the trip, the purpose of which was to test what effect weightlessness has on an animal's muscles, hearts and skeletal and nervous systems.
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The last time scientists sent animals into space was in 2007, a trip which only lasted 12 days.
"This is the first time that animals have flown in space for so long on their own," said Vladimir Sychov, deputy director of the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems, in Moscow.
The journey was something of a bloodbath. About half of the 53 mice died, which is what scientists counted on, but all eight gerbils onboard died unexpectedly "because of equipment failure," said Sychov. All 15 lizards survived.
The data the scientists collected will help to better understand microgravity's effect on organisms. When animals, or people, travel into space, it has a variety of effects on the operation and appearance of the body: calcium loss, shrinking muscles and blood pressure changes have all been observed.
Those effects can be temporary, but last year one researcher showed that some effects of microgravity can be more lasting, when a team of radiologists at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston performed MRIs on 27 astronauts. They found that seven of the 27 astronauts experienced a flattening of the backs of their eyes, and nearly all of them -- 26 out of 27 -- had enlarged optic nerves. Those are changes consistent with hypertension disorders, and can produce permanent vision loss.
If we're going to want to travel to Mars, those are the sort of medical conditions we need to know about, which was one reason for the animal space capsule.
"These scientific findings will help us better understand the mechanisms of life's response to gravity, shedding light on Earth-bound medical issues and also the development of countermeasures for human space travelers through the use of model biological systems," said Nicole Rayl of NASA, who also participated in the Russian missions.
The Bion-M capsule was launched into space from Kazakhstan on April 19, attached to a Soyuz 2-1A rocket.
The Russian space menagerie reached an orbit of 345 miles above Earth, which is higher than the orbit of the International Space Station.
The capsule touched down in the Orenburg Region, about 745 miles southeast of Moscow.
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