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NASA, Russia To Study Spaceflight's Effects On Geckos

Scientists will observe cell proliferation, tissue regeneration, genetic activity, and the physiological effects of microgravity.

NASA on Tuesday said it will work with Russia on a new robotic mission to study some animal's biological responses to spaceflight.

NASA's participation in the Russian Foton-M3 mission is scheduled for launch aboard the Soyuz-U rocket from Kazakhstan Friday. The mission will use a modified Vostok robotic spacecraft, which contains a service module, a solid-fuel retro-rocket unit, and batteries. The spacecraft will travel in low Earth orbit for 12 days. Landing is scheduled for Sept. 26.

Scientists from the NASA Ames Research Center and Montana State University will conduct pre- and post-flight studies on geckos, newts, and snails to observe cell proliferation, tissue regeneration, genetic activity, and the physiological effects of microgravity.

NASA Ames scientists developed eight one-inch-deep aluminum boxes called "attics" to house a small, battery-powered video camera for in-flight video recording, a solid-state video recorder, infrared LEDs, and a pump to provide water for newts and geckos flown on Foton-M3. A processor will control the attic's components.

"A team of U.S. 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," Michael Skidmore of NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., and project manager for the Foton-M3 mission, said in a prepared statement.

Skidmore said the Foton-M3 data will help validate the results of NASA's Foton-M2 investigations in 2005, when U.S. and Russian scientists also collaborated. Such fundamental space biology studies advance human knowledge of the effects of gravity on all terrestrial life, he said.

U.S. and Russian scientists will exchange all scientific data obtained from the experiments.

NASA scientists hope the data obtained from the Foton-M3 mission will expand their overall knowledge base and improve research techniques.

"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," Kenneth Souza, the project scientist at NASA Ames, said in a prepared statement.

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