The Sad Conclusion to the Tale of the Sex Geckos Lost in Space

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Sept. 2 2014 6:12 PM

The Sad Conclusion to the Tale of the Sex Geckos Lost in Space

Please don't send me into space

Photo by Jacques Demarthon/AFP/Getty Images

Being a research gecko in Russia is tough. You never know when you’ll be blasted off into space, asked to re-enact a more intimate, reptilian version of a scene from Moonraker, and then left to wonder if there was any point to the exercise at all since mission control seems to have disappeared and you could well be as good as lost to the universe. That’s all assuming none of the equipment fails and you don’t freeze to death.

Alas, on Sept. 1, the Russian Foton-M satellite carrying five geckos launched into space in July returned with its squamatic passengers dead and in a frozen, mummified state. Most likely, the temperature dropped too low in the box where the one male and four female geckos were kept. However, the Guardian reports that the Institute of Biomedical Problems (ISTC), the Russian agency running the study, has said it’s “still too early to talk about the geckos’ cause of death.”


The geckos set off to space on a journey of sexual exploration as part of a study on weightlessness and reproduction. ISTC has been investigating the subject since the 1960s. Zero gravity seems not to offer much impediment to human sexual activity. Pregnancies in rats gestating in low gravity environments, however, do have some adverse effects—so we probably can’t colonize space just yet.

It’s unclear why lizard mating was of particular interest. But things got off to a floppy start when Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency, lost contact with the geckos’ satellite a few days after its launch. It's also a mystery whether the crew managed to have any coupling activities whilst in spaceflight, or if any of these were filmed. But it seems advisable to first check that the heater works next time Russian scientists want to coax space geckos into the mood for love.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Boer Deng is a Slate editorial assistant. Follow her on Twitter


The World

The Budget Disaster that Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

Can Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu Pull Off One More Louisiana Miracle?

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

Everything You Should Know About Today’s Eclipse

Fascinating Maps Based on Reddit, Craigslist, and OkCupid Data


Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.


The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

How Movies Like Contagion and Outbreak Distort Our Response to Real Epidemics

  News & Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
Oct. 23 2014 11:51 AM It Seems No One Is Rich or Happy: I Looked
Atlas Obscura
Oct. 23 2014 1:34 PM Leave Me Be Beneath a Tree: Trunyan Cemetery in Bali
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
Oct. 23 2014 1:46 PM The Real Secret of Serial Has Sarah Koenig made up her mind yet? 
Oct. 23 2014 11:45 AM The United States of Reddit  How social media is redrawing our borders. 
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 23 2014 7:30 AM Our Solar System and Galaxy … Seen by an Astronaut
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.