What began as a pleasure cruise has turned into a crisis as Russia attempts to reestablish control of a scientific satellite carrying five geckos, which are part of an experiment to study the effects of zero-gravity on animal mating.
Less than a week after the Foton-M4 satellite was launched into space for a 60-day mission, it stopped responding to commands from Russia's mission control. Engineers are busily working to reestablish a connection with the spacecraft's operating system, which is currently on autopilot. If they fail to regain control, they won't be able to safely land the craft.
For the time being, the satellite of love is still transmitting data, allowing scientists to watch video footage of the five geckos — four females and one male — as they continue their orbit around the Earth.
As the Moscow Times reports, this is the latest in a series of embarrassments for the Russian space program:
The disruption follows a massive equipment failure aboard the Bion-M satellite last year that killed most of the gerbils, mice and fish it was carrying, and the crashing down to Earth of the Phobos-Grunt probe shortly after its launch in 2011 on an ambitious mission to collect surface samples from one of the Martian moons.
"Another off-nominal situation with a spacecraft is a sign of a systematic crisis in the industry," says Ivan Moiseyev, the research chief at the Institute for Space Politics.