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NASA, Russia To Study Effects Of Spaceflight On Small Lizards, Snails

Insurance Company Advertising Mascot Advised To Steer Clear Of Kazakhstan

Modern science may have finally stumbled upon a way to rid the planet of the GEICO Insurance gecko, once and for all. NASA announced Tuesday it will work with Russia's space program on an upcoming mission to study the biological effects of spaceflight on some resolutely earthbound creatures.

According to NASA, the Russian Foton-M3 mission will launch from Kazakhstan this Friday, sending an automated Vostok spacecraft -- a heavily modified version of the same basic spaceship that carried Yuri Gagarin into orbit in 1961 -- into low Earth orbit for 12 days. Instead of a human astronaut, however, the small craft will hold several geckos, newts, and snails.

Scientists from NASA's Ames Research Center and Montana State University will monitor the creatures' conditions before and after the mission, measuring -- among other things -- cell growth and tissue regeneration.

NASA employees at Moffett Field, CA also developed eight one-inch-deep aluminum "attics," to house a small video camera, a solid-state recorder, infrared LEDs, a pump to provide water to the newts and geckos... and a processor to control it all.

"A team of US scientists has been invited to participate in the experiments, and our role as co-investigators will be to enhance and expand the science conducted during the mission," said Michael Skidmore, NASA's project manager for Foton-M3.

He added data collected from the upcoming mission should help validate findings from the 2005 Foton-M2 flight, also a US/Russia joint endeavor. It is hoped the findings will advance humanity's knowledge of the effects of gravity on all life on Earth.

"NASA's long-term goal is to use simple, easily maintained species to determine the biological responses to the rigors of spaceflight, including the virtual absence of gravity," said Kenneth Souza, the project scientist at NASA Ames.



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