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Russian animal astronauts return to Earth

A Russian space capsule containing mice, sand eels, geckos, gerbils, snails, fish and plants has returned to Earth after a month-long mission in space.

The Bion-M craft performed a parachute-assisted landing on a field in the Orenberg region, 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) southeast of Moscow.

The capsule containing animals, attached to a Soyuz rocket, was blasted into space from Kazakhstan in April 19 with an aim of studying the effects of microgravity on animals' bodies.

The rocket spun at an orbital height of 575 kilometers (360 miles) above Earth, surpassing that of the International Space Station.

While scientists performed tests on those who made it back to Russia, about a half of 53 mice died in space, as did eight gerbils. All 15 geckos survived.

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