A cockroach has become the first ever species to conceive in space. The insect spent twelve days in orbit as part of the Russian Foton M3 space mission and has given birth to offspring.
This is a tale of the tough struggle for survival, a tale of the cockroach Nadezhda – which means ‘hope’ in Russian.
Nadezhda is the first female in history to have conceived in space. Recently all 33 of her baby roaches were born on Earth, in the Russian town of Voronezh. But they are considered space babies.
“We can already conclude the newborn roaches have been affected by microgravity and their future development will be different from the ones conceived here on Earth,” says Dmitry Atyakshin of Voronezh medical academy.
She may have grown up in someone’s kitchen or wandering from one classroom to another at the university. But now, many in Voronezh must be wondering if they may have seen her around before her international début.
Nadezhda found herself onboard the Foton M3 satellite that carried thousands of living organisms into space for experiments. She spent 12 days of the orbit locked in a can with 60 other roaches. In neighbouring containers were slugs, silkworms, gerbils, gekkos, fish and various bacteria.
Most came back to Earth safe and sound. But for some, the journey was too much to handle. Over a half of Nadezhda’s fellow roaches returned to Earth dead.
Nadezhda made it back, only to find out all the creatures were to be killed and used for further tests. But unlike the gerbils and gekkos, Nadezhda was lucky to survive as she was part of a student experiment.
Her unplanned pregnancy came as a surprise to everyone. She made it through solar radiation, severe temperature shifts, and the stress of zero gravity – conditions in which most wouldn’t even think of conceiving.
“It is extremely romantic in space, but zero gravity is very stressful. Other species we sent in pairs haven’t come back with any offspring. Perhaps some day humans will be doing the same,” Sergey Ryazansky, Foton M-3 Students' Curator.
The little six-legged mum has shown the world her will to live and give life.
In Russia cockroaches die in their millions falling victims to a slipper. But Nadezhda’s story is one of survival and triumph – a story of a tough little cockroach who joined the thousand-mile high club to beat the odds and become a pioneer of making babies in space.