Will butterflies in space grow different to butterflies on Earth? (NASA, editing by Ian O'Neill)
Will butterflies in space grow different to butterflies on Earth? (NASA, editing by Ian O'Neill)

Science, Space Shuttle, Space Station

Studying the Life Cycle of Butterflies and Spiders in Space

11 Nov , 2008 by

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Space biology experiments have just arrived in the classroom. With a focus on hundreds of K-12 students, a University of Colorado, Boulder payload will be launched on board Space Shuttle Endeavour on November 14th carrying spiders and butterfly larvae. The purpose? To provide an educational research tool for youngsters, helping to develop their interest in biology and space science. The butterfly larvae will be studied over their complete life cycle in space; from larvae to pupae to butterfly to egg. Web-building spiders will be studied to see how their behaviour alters when lacking gravity. Both sets of experiments will then be compared with control subjects on the ground… I wish I had the chance to do this kind of research when in school. I wish I had the chance to do this kind of research now!

This program is an excellent example of using a national asset like the International Space Station to inspire K-12 students in science, technology, engineering and math,” said BioServe Director Louis Stodieck, principal investigator on the project. BioServe has flown two previous K-12 payloads as part of their CSI program on other shuttle flights to the International Space Station (ISS).

This particular experiment will study the activities and feeding habits of web-building spiders when in space, compared to spiders in the classroom. The hundreds of students from several locations in the US are involved in the project and will learn valuable research techniques along with boosting their interest in the sciences. After all, it isn’t every day you get a chance to carry out cutting-edge research on the world’s most extreme science laboratory!

The second set of experiments will be another space/Earth comparison, but this time a study of the full lifespan of painted lady butterflies. Four-day old pupae will be launched into space and watched via downlink video, still images and data from the ISS. Partners in the project include the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster, CO and the Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Education Outeach.

BioServe is a non-profit, NASA funded organization hoping to include payloads on each of the remaining shuttle flights until retirement. “Between now and then, we are seeking sponsors for our educational payloads to enhance the learning opportunities for the K-12 community in Colorado and around the world,” added BioServe Payload Mission Manager Stefanie Countryman.

The full details on the project can be found on the University of Colorado pages.

This is where the strength of the International Space Station really comes into play. Real science being carried out by schools in the US to boost interest not only in space travel, but biology too. It’s a relief, I was getting a little tired hearing about busted toilets, interesting yet pointless boomerang “experiments”, more tests on sprouting seeds and the general discontent about the ISS being an anticlimax.

Let’s hope BioServe’s projects turn out well and all the students involved are inspired by the opportunities of space travel. Although I can’t help but feel sorry for the confused spiders and butterfly larvae when they realise there’s no “up” any more (I hope they don’t get space sick).

Source: UC Boulder

By  
[Follow me on Twitter (@astroengine)] [Check out my space blog: Astroengine.com] [Check out my radio show: Astroengine Live!] Hello! My name is Ian O'Neill and I've been writing for the Universe Today since December 2007. I am a solar physics doctor, but my space interests are wide-ranging. Since becoming a science writer I have been drawn to the more extreme astrophysics concepts (like black hole dynamics), high energy physics (getting excited about the LHC!) and general space colonization efforts. I am also heavily involved with the Mars Homestead project (run by the Mars Foundation), an international organization to advance our settlement concepts on Mars. I also run my own space physics blog: Astroengine.com, be sure to check it out!


21 Responses

  1. M Ahsan says:

    Very nice photo…… funny, scientific, and absolutely valid. I am happy to congratulate the designer, and the one who thought it was right picture…..

  2. Ian O'Neill says:

    Hey Jorge:

    Well, it is kinda a “national” asset. It’s an asset to all nations involved in the international effort to fund the thing.

    Assuming all things are fair and equal with the ISS (although that can probably be debated), all the nations involved should view the station as an asset. BioServe will probably have an advantage when getting payloads onboard shuttle flights (as it is NASA funded), but I’m sure similar programs can be carried out by the other partner states.

    More educational flights is what I say! Plus see fish swim in microgravity! (Thanks Ron for that idea) 😉

    Cheers, Ian

  3. Hunnter says:

    This should be interesting…

    I’m almost worried that they will die fairly quickly.

    One thing to consider is that there is less gravity (not really none, animals tend to be able to detect even the smallest changes in things) up there, so the spiders could easily grow larger, if they are fed more than usual that is.
    And they generally don’t care much for up or down, in fact, i would be surprised if they had any sense of up and down, besides falling from stuff.
    They are so small, and so light, with their sticky feet, they’ll just tend to act as normal.
    I just wonder how they will build webs.

    As for the butterflies, when they start flying, they will soon learn to adapt to the fact that there is no gravity keeping them down.
    But they tend to move around awkwardly, so not sure how they will move around. with precision.
    I can see a lot of “falling out” between them.

  4. Feenixx says:

    Animal Rights Activists should love this:
    First, we ensure that humans can survive and perform in the ISS… only then do we move on and try it with other creatures.

    😉

  5. Huygens says:

    The Russians will be carrying a small canister aboard their Phobos-Grunt probe to Mars that will hold a collection of microbes to see if they can survive the long trip through deep space to collect surface samples from Phobos and back.

    The Planetary Society, which is running this experiment, wants to see if the theory that microbes could survive being transferred from one world to another via meteoroids is true.

  6. Richie says:

    Are they taking some flies to feed the unfortunate spiders?

  7. Jorge says:

    This program is an excellent example of using a national asset like the International Space Station

    ‘Scuse me? An international space station is a national asset now? Is this a great attitude or what?

  8. Ron says:

    I’d love to see how fish move in zero g…

  9. RobertB says:

    @Richie, lol, but seriously — how do you feed a space spider, when there’s a notable lack of indigenous insect life?

    Oh, that must be what the butterflies are for. 😮

  10. MrObvious says:

    Figures… JORGE can only comment on something so trivial… as if it was the subject of the article. If you really want to get picky, it isn’t “International” it is actually “multi-national”. There…rack this through your malbenevolent brain.
    …if you really want to get technical and figure the total monetary cost spent building and supporting the IIS, it is barely multi-national.

  11. Jorge says:

    Ian, nice twist, but, frankly? Meh.

    The point is: the thing came to fruition through international cooperation from the start. It’s not something like the indian lunar probe, which has lots of input and instruments from ESA but was developped as an indian project, under indian supervision. The ISS has always been international, involving all the major space agencies in the world at the time of the decision to go forward (with the exception of the chinese… which in truth weren’t that much of a spacefaring nation back then). Even countries that do not take a direct part in it are indirectly involved – some non-participating ESA members, for instance. Therefore, I think it’s of very, very bad taste to go “national” on it. This kind of attitude can only damage the project. People really should leave nationalism in the closet when dealing with such intrinsically international endeavours.

    Call it an asset, by all means. But don’t call it a “national” asset.

  12. Ian O'Neill says:

    @tballou:- I think it’s a wonderful sideline for the ISS. If a small experiment — after all, the shuttle hasn’t only delivered some spiders and butterflies! — can be included in a space mission where science payloads/supplies are being flown, the more the better! Educational elements should be flown with everything we send into space.

    @Jorge:- I can see how you’ve interpreted what was said in the interview, but I don’t see where the problem is. The interview was published in a US university website about a US project for US students. In this case, I think “national asset” is a good description. The interviewee didn’t think the project had any international ramifications, and as NASA funded the study, it reinforces the “national” thing. I doubt they thought it would cause an international dispute when it went to print…

    Cheers, Ian 😉

  13. tballou says:

    Further proof of the futility and utter wastefulness of a manned space station. NASA and the ISS have been reduced to science fair projects for grade school kids! How pathetic, and such a complete waste of resources. Obviously they have nothing more important to do up there than conduct such pointless “research”.

  14. Aodhhan says:

    tballou…
    it is hardly useless information, in fact it is information which is needed, which can be monitored by school aged individuals to excite them about science, space, insects, animals; teach the scientific method, have them use critical skills to predict an outcome and study when something happens, why it happens… .and share it not only with each other, but experienced scientists as well.
    All of which are great items for the ISS to be involved in. However, since you obviously cannot think 2 steps ahead to see how it can positively affect people, I don’t expect you to really get it. I expect you are someone who has to find the worst in everything, without the ability to use common sense to meet and end.

    Jorge…
    Actually, the ISS is a bunch of NATIONAL ASSETS connected together to form the ISS. Get over yourself already…. this must be about the 5th time you’ve been told so. Its amazing how someone can take a public venture for public affairs and rip it apart as some personal attack on their nationality.

  15. Huygens says:

    We used to put men on the Moon.

    Now we monitor some bugs in LEO aboard a collection of tin cans that cost $10 billion.

    NASA doesn’t have a clue how to really excite the public about something that should be naturally enthralling.

  16. Jorge says:

    (Note to self: good job in not feeding the trolls! Well done!)

    @Ian:

    Well, yes, you’re right. I’m fully convinced that the interviewer and the interviewee had all the best intentions. I’m also fully convinced that they didn’t think what they said and did had international ramifications. I also think, however, that that’s exactly where the problem lies, and I can’t help imagining the massive outcry that we’d hear around here if it had been, say, a Russian educator being interviewed for, say, the website of the St. Petersburg university who called the ISS a “national asset”. Righfully so, I might add.

    People everywhere should realize that everything they do when dealing with international endeavours has international ramifications. Everything. By definition.

    Still, giving the trolls a little cookie so they won’t go home too sad and hungry, lemme add that wereas this might be seen by some as an awfully expensive way to provide educational materials for a small number of kids, the project does have merit and scientific relevance in itself, so I’m totally fine with it. We do need to understand much better than we do now how other species develop in zero-G, if we want to have some day more self-sustainable habitats in Earth’s orbit or beyond.

    (note to self: hey, it was just a cookie!)

  17. tballou says:

    Hellloooo people – there will never be self-sustainable habitats in Earth’s orbit or beyond – it simply is not going to happen. Running cute little experiments on zero gravity effects on bugs and bunnies benefits no one, and address no possible relevant research questions other than those made up specifically to find some use, any use for the ISS.

    Nobody needs to know anything about living in zero gravity because we will never be able to do it, and there is no possiblly justifiable reason to even try. All this prolonged foolishness with the ISS is diverting billions and billion of dollars from legitimate space research involving more and better robots and telescopes.

    Please remember that this whole idiotic idea about going back to the moon and then to Mars came from none other than George W. Bush – what more proof does one need for the abject uselessness of manned space travel?

  18. Huygens says:

    What will it take to get private space industries making permanent space utilization happen? Besides lots of cash, of course.

  19. Jorge says:

    Lots of cash.

    Oh, besides that?

    Well… lots of cash to be made. That’s the whole point of private industries, space or otherwise: to make cash.

    So unless there’s some relatively short-term economic benefit in permanent space usage, they won’t do anything. And it has to be something with a HUGE economic value, to compensate for the equally HUGE spending space stuff enthrails.

    Nowdays, the mantra seems to be orbital tourism. I don’t know if we have enough grossly wealthy people around to pay the humongous bills space tourism generates and turn it into a sustainable business, though. I’m rather skeptical about it, in fact. It might work for a few years, maybe a decade, but once they run out of adventurous billionares, things might sour pretty fast.

  20. tballou says:

    Space tourism – thats the ticket! Finally we have hit on a justibiable reason to send people into space. Thrills! Adventure! At least that makes more sense than pretending that there is some scientific, technological, industrial, medical, etc reason for having a space station or otherwise sending humans into space (with the sole exception of fixing our highly productive and valuable telescopes!)

  21. Darren says:

    Hellloooo people – there will never be self-sustainable habitats in Earth’s orbit or beyond my fat ass- its simply is not going to happen if your gay. Running cute little experiments on zero gravity effects on pussys and girl asses benefits no one, and address no possible relevant research questions other than those made up specifically to find some use of me nude, any use for the ISD. (I Suck Dicks)

    Nobody needs to know anything about living in zero gravity because we will never be able to do it, and there is no possiblly justifiable reason to even try. All this prolonged foolishness with the ISS is diverting billions and billion of dollars from legitimate space research involving more and better robots and telescopes.

    Please remember that this whole idiotic idea about going back to the moon and then to Mars came from none other than George W. Bush – what more proof does one need for the abject uselessness of manned space travel?

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