MOSCOW - A Russian rocket carrying a capsule filled with 45 mice and 15 newts along with other small animals blasted off Friday on a month-long orbital mission that should pave the way for manned flights to Mars. Live footage on the Roscosmos space agency website showed the Soyuz lifting off at 1000 GMT from the Russian-leased Baikonur space centre in Kazakhstan with its treasured cargo and another experimental satellite on board. The so-called Bion-M capsule is also carrying snails and gerbils as well as some plants and microflora. "This is first and foremost to determine how our organisms adapt to weightlessness and to understand what we need to do to make sure that our organisms survive extended flights," the TsSKB-Progress space research centre's department head Valery Abrashkin told state television. The meticulously-prepared experiment will last 30 days and see the capsule touch down softly with the help of a parachute in the central Russian Orenburg region on May 18.