Space Geckos and Living on Mars

It’s the love boat in space!

By now, the entire planet has probably heard of the crisis between Russia and the Ukraine. If you haven’t, I highly recommend you go to or for an update. The very basic gist is this; Russia has invaded the Ukraine and the rest of the world is laying sanctions against Russia in retaliation.



Many sanctions have been laid. The most recent that Canada has laid against the warring country include:

  • Arms Industry
  • Financial Sectors
  • Energy Sectors

Perhaps the most interesting, and  overlooked effect that these sanctions are having are on Russia’s space industry.

 NASA cuts ties with Russia

In a move perhaps reminiscent of the space race of the 1960s, NASA and Russia are again at odds. Last Wednesday, NASA said it was severing all ties with Russia over the Ukraine crisis. The one exception being any joint operations with the International Space Station.

Nasa’s and Russia’s space agency will “continue to work together to maintain safe and continuous operation” of the space station, Nasa said in a statement.

Now what does this “cutting of ties” involve?

NASA employees can’t travel to Russia or host visitors until further notice. (Sorry to all you Big Bang Theory fans out there — Howard Wolowitz won’t be travelling to space with the Russians again.)


It’s not just seeing each other in person that has been barred. NASA employees are also forbidden from mailing or holding teleconferences with their Russian counterparts.

It is into this environment of isolation that Russia’s space ventures are now facing disaster.

Out of Control Russian Space Craft

After NASA cut its ties with Russia, Russia invested $52 billion dollars into its own Space program.

The geckos are among 21 other experiments that are currently aboard the Foton-M4 satellite. The satellite, which was launched July 18, was designed to see if and how animal reproduce in microgravity, and if there are changes in the survival of the eggs.


image courtsey of

On Thursday of last week Russia’s mission control said the craft will not respond to its commands.

So yeah, there is currently a satellite filled with lusty lizards circling the planet in imminent danger of crashing back to earth .

“The equipment which is working in automatic mode, and in particular the experiment with the geckos is working according to the program,” Oleg Voloshin, a spokesman of Russia’s Institute of Medico-Biological Problems said.

UPDATE: It looks like power may have been restored to Foton-M4 as of this morning. Roscosmos says its 90% sure the problem has been resolved and the experiments are still viable. They are still unsure why this happened in the first place.

Why do this experiment?

Well, space is big.

If humans are ever to travel outside of our solar system we have to be prepared to be in space for long periods of time. Unless we discover light speed travel, in order to travel in space for extended periods  we might need to use generation ships.

generation ship

Other projects on the ship were designed to study development of plant seeds, microbes, as well as the effects of cosmic radiation on various biological objects.

The Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, is saying the six tonne satellite could continue to operate on its own “for a long time”.


On the other hand, a space expert cited by Interfax said that without communication, it could stay in space for as little as four months.

Russia hasn’t been having the best year, and it has quite a history of problems with its space program.

Earlier this year, a Proton-M rocket carrying a communications satellite to provide internet to remote parts Russia exploded minutes after take off. That is the second crash of a Proton rocket in less than a year.

In June, the maiden voyage of Russia’s first new spacecraft since the Soviet era, the Angara rocket, was aborted at the last minute on live television as Vladimir Putin looked on.

It was successfully launched on 9 July.

The last Proton-M to be launched in 2007, which was carrying newts, lizards, Mongolian gerbils, slugs, butterflies and spiders, returned successfully to Earth. But the first Proton-M launch in 2001 ended in tragedy after the satellite fell back to Earth and exploded, killing a soldier.

This satellite is expected to land in the southern Orenburg region southeast  of Moscow in two months time.

Now with Russia unable to ask for help from the west or NASA (not that it would) one can only guess how things might turn out.

What is the west doing?

Russia isn’t the only country in the world trying to accelerate the space race. Although NASA has severed its ties with Russia, it is also making strides into the future. Here are a few things that are happening on our own continent.

NASA and the 12 billion dollar rocket.

The space shuttle era is over, but that doesn’t mean that we have given up on space travel.

NASA is trying to build the Rocket to end all Rockets; a highly advanced machine that would send astronauts to asteroids and Mars. These would be much larger than the Saturn V rockets which sent men to the moon.

Or it would, if NASA had the money for it.

Federal auditors are warning that NASA doesn’t have enough money to get this rocket of the ground by the end of February 2017 as planned.

NASA’s Space Launch System is at “high risk of missing” its planned December 2017 initial test flight–the Government Accountability Office 

The GAO report put the current shortfall at $400 million, but did say that solid progress has been made on the design.

NASA’s launch system officials said there is a 90 percent chance of not hitting the launch date at this time.


Want to go live on Mars?

mars one

The not-for-profit Mars One project wants to send humans on one-way trips to Mars. One of this bloggers good friends is Andrew Rader, one of the front runners in this project.


He has a pretty brilliant book out called “Leaving Earth: Why One-Way to Mars Makes Sense“. You can click HERE to check it out.

Before it sends people to the Red planet,  it first wants to send experimental packages  — potentially including the first interplanetary advertisements.

These experiments are scheduled to go to Mars in 2018. If you have the money, you can even put your company’s name on the robotic lander that’s scheduled to carry the experiments.

No word yet on whether the delay in the post shuttle rockets would have an effect on the launch day of Mars One.

“What better way for an unknown phone brand to establish worldwide brand awareness and an image of innovation than by purchasing the naming rights for the first private Mars lander?” Bas Lansdorp, co-founder and CEO of Mars One, told NBC News in an email.


The James Webb Space Telescope (sometimes called JWST) will make the Hubble Telescope look like a children’s toy.

It is a large infrared telescope with a 6.5-meter primary mirror.  The project is working to a 2018 launch date.

The Webb will be the premier observatory of the next decade, serving thousands of astronomers worldwide. It will study every phase in the history of our Universe, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang, to the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, to the evolution of our own Solar System –


Even though JWST is not in the sky yet, NASA is already planning which telescope will take its place.

The Advanced Technology Large Aperture Space Telescope (ATLAST) is a NASA strategic mission concept for the years after JWST.

It will have a primary mirror diameter in the 8m to 16m range that will enable people to see heavenly bodies like never before.

ATLAST is a long time off. Until then, we’ll just have to stick with the good old Hubble.

This photograph of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope was taken on the second servicing mission to the observatory in 1997. Credit: NASA

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