Mir's Slippery Customers

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As if the deaths of dozens of baby rats aboard the space shuttle Columbia wasnít warning enough, the crew of Mir risked the ire of animal rights activists Monday -- or rather, amphibian and mollusk rights -- when their latest cargo came in. For the newest residents of the Russian space station are 15 two-year-old Oriental newts, and ďaboutĒ 80 snails -- Mir biologist Georgy Samarin being unsure of the precise number of gastropod cosmonauts.

The new crew members will stay aloft until August, while their human counterparts film their movements for a study on anatomy and motor skills in space. Itís not the first outing for the salamanders, who follow in the footsteps of a nine-newt team that tragically died on re-entry last February. The snails, however, are slithering where no shell-dweller has slithered before.