Butterflies on the ISS. Credit: BioEdOnline. Click to see more.
Butterflies on the ISS. Credit: BioEdOnline. Click to see more.

Science, Space Station

Butterflynauts Emerge from Cocoons on ISS

7 Dec , 2009 by

Four “butterflynauts” have emerged on the International Space Station. They are part of a suitcase sized educational experiment that was rocketed to space on Nov. 16 on space shuttle Atlantis as part of the STS-129 mission. Students of all ages and the public are invited to follow the tiny crew’s development from larvae to adult butterflies in the microgravity of space.

In over 100 classrooms across the U.S., students have set up habitats and are replicating the space experiment. Their objective is to compare the growth and behavior of ground-based butterfly larvae and adult butterflies with those living in the microgravity environment of space. New pictures and videos and Powerpoint slides are available almost daily.

A free Butterflies in Space teacher’s guide can be downloaded from BioEd Online at the Butterflies in Space website here. The project is sponsored by National Space Biomedical Research Institute.

Initial results show that there appears to be no difference in the development rates of these butterflies in a microgravity environment as compared to Earth’s gravity, which is a fairly significant finding. While microgravity environment has obvious impacts on human health and physiology, relatively little is known about how microgravity whould effect human growth and development. While there are major differences between humans and butterflies, basic cellular divisions in follow similar processes. Therefore, the success of the butterfly experiment in space indicates that a human embryo could potentially survive and develop normally in space even in the absence of gravity.


By  -      
Dr. Ken Kremer is a speaker, research scientist, freelance science journalist (Princeton, NJ) and photographer whose articles, space exploration images and Mars mosaics have appeared in magazines, books, websites and calendars including Astronomy Picture of the Day, NBC, BBC, SPACE.com, Spaceflight Now and the covers of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Spaceflight and the Explorers Club magazines. Ken has presented at numerous educational institutions, civic & religious organizations, museums and astronomy clubs. Ken has reported first hand from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, NASA Wallops, NASA Michoud/Stennis/Langley and on over 60 launches including 8 shuttle launches. He lectures on both Human and Robotic spaceflight - www.kenkremer.com. Follow Ken on Facebook and Twitter

8 Responses

  1. Dave Finton says:


  2. DrFlimmer says:

    I have the odd feeling that there are more butterflies in this spot than I have seen in the whole summer….

  3. Nexus says:

    Living in space must be miserable and frightening for the poor butterflies, because they know instinctively that they can fly but it won’t work properly in zero G.

  4. Lawrence B. Crowell says:

    This is an example of problems with manned space flight and the ISS. I am sure there is science to be gleaned in the study of butterflies in space, but at one hell of a cost. I’d much rather there be more deep space probes and orbiting telescopes that tell us more about the big U.


  5. Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says:

    Yeah. But did they take a “killing jar”?

  6. Brian Sheen says:

    A very interesting experiment – the butterfly is Cynthia cardui or Cynthia virginiensis if the American species.

    Not remarked on is the fact that all have fully expanded wings.. When the imago breaks loose from the chrysalis the wings are all packed in a heap. The butterfly then climbs up a stork of grass or similar and pumps a fluid into the wings through the veins. This then hardens so the butterfly can actually fly. Normally gravity helps in this process and it take very little interferance to prevent it happening correctly. (A crumpled wing often results.)

  7. William928 says:

    I would have to side with Lawrence Crowell on this topic. A neat little experiment, but at what cost? Resources could be much better spent on deep space probes and robotic landers(Titan, Enceclacus) IMHO.

  8. William928 says:

    errr…should be Enceladus.

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