45 mice, 15 newts, eight gerbils and a handful of snails returned to Earth today after a month in space in a Russian capsule. The Bion-M completed a parachute-assisted landing about 750 miles southeast of Moscow, and researchers immediately set up a mobile lab near the capsule to begin tests on the animals.
According to the Associated Foreign Press, it was necessary for the critters to have their own capsule because they would have "posed a health risk" if they had been on the ISS.
The research is part of Russia's initiative to create a base on Mars beginning in 2030 that would facilitate manned missions. The animals will contribute to understanding of how the skeletal, nervous and muscular systems are affected by weightlessness during long flights. The AFP noted, somewhat menacingly, that:
Scientists said the animals were needed because they were subject to the kinds of experiments that are impossible to be conducted on humans.
Oooooh that kind of experiment. OK, sure. Space party! It is also unclear whether all the animals survived the trip. But this has taken a dark turn. The point is that animals in space are cute and helpful, right? Guys? [PhysOrg]