The geckos had been on a two-month mission launched to facilitate research on the effects of zero-gravity on reproductive systems.
Last week, Roscosmos announced abruptly that the mission had reached completion earlier than anticipated — after a mere 44 days.
The satellite landed in Orenburg on Monday afternoon amid widespread speculation on the crew of tiny cosmonauts' survival prospects. Upon cracking open the hatch, rescue teams discovered a tragic scene.
Open star cluster NGC 7380 is still embedded in its natal cloud of interstellar gas and dust popularly known as the Wizard Nebula. Seen with foreground and background stars along the plane of our Milky Way galaxy it lies some 8,000 light-years distant, toward the constellation Cepheus.