Police arrested an amateur biologist who flower-napped “Cosmonaut,” the only orchid ever grown in outer space, and planned to sell it on the black market to an orchid collector, a Soviet newspaper said Friday.
“Cosmonaut,” which was grown aboard the Salyut 6 space station and returned to Earth in 1980 on the Soyuz-36 spacecraft, died during the bungled flower-napping, the Socialist Industry newspaper said.
The orchid was stolen last month from the Academy of Sciences botanical garden in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.
“Cosmonaut” was considered priceless and was still being used in biological and genetic experiments because of its space origin. The newspaper said years of study have been wasted because of the early demise of the space orchid, the only one ever grown in a weightless environment.
Police followed a trail of rare flowers sold recently on the black market in their eight-day hunt. They arrested Vladimir Tyurin, 36, a gardener at the botanical gardens who used his pass key to the hot houses for his illegal picking raids.
The only flaw in his scheme was that he failed to remove the tags identifying the stolen flowers as coming from the Academy of Sciences garden in Kiev, making it easy for police to trace their origin.
Tyurin would sell the rare orchids to collectors in Moscow at handsome prices. For one shipment of top grade orchids he earned more than $3,200, the newspaper said.