Russia launches animals into orbit

Moscow, Apr 19 (EFE).- A Soyuz 2.1 rocket topped by a capsule carrying mice, gerbils and other small creatures was launched into space Friday from Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

"The space apparatus has separated from the third stage of the rocket," the Roscosmos space agency said.

The Bion-M1 contains 45 mice, 15 geckos, 20 snails and eight Mongolian gerbils as well as micro-organisms and plants, accompanied by video cameras and an array of sensors enabling scientists on the ground to monitor their biological responses to spaceflight.

Mission planners expect the data to be useful in evaluating the effects of space travel on humans.

Officials say the creatures will return alive after spending 30 days in orbit at an altitude of 357 miles (575 kilometers) above the Earth.

Though under the control of Roscosmos, the Bion-M1 mission is international and includes participation from NASA.

Roscosmos last sent animals into space in 1996.