[/caption]The educational experiment currently being carried out on the space station has just returned a surprise result. It would appear the two web-weaving spiders being studied have turned their fortunes around – they have scrapped their aimless 3D mess of silk and started to create the symmetrical 2D webs more commonly seen on Earth. The experiment started off a little precarious as one of the spiders went AWOL, but it would appear the pair are back and better than ever, spinning picture perfect spider webs.
This experiment, currently being studied by hundreds of K-12 students in the USA, is one of the payloads of the STS-126 shuttle mission to the International Space Station (ISS), dubbed the “home improvement mission.” Not to be outdone by the space walking astronauts, the little arachnid ISS passengers have decided to do some home improvements of their own…
“While y’all have been busy doing your extreme makeover, our spiders have done an extreme makeover and have torn down their first web and have made another one,” flight controllers informed the ISS crew.
“I thought we were your main entertainment, but I guess we’ve been taken over by spiders,” Michael Fincke, space station commander, said in response.
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And what an extreme makeover these little spiders have carried out! It may have taken them a few days to adjust to the microgravity conditions in orbit, but they have turned their little enclosure into a scene more commonly recognised in nature. Only last week, the camera attached to the spider experiment revealed that although the eight-legged guests were making themselves at home, their habitat was a little chaotic. Without gravity, it appeared that spiders could not construct a “normal” web.
However, it looks like that was just the adjustment period. On Thursday, mission control noticed the web and notified the crew to take a closer look. “We noticed the spiders’ made a symmetrical web,” Fincke radioed to Mission Control on Friday. “It looks beautiful.”
This striking turn-around by the spiders will be of great interest to biologists and students alike. Although it was interesting to study how different forms of life adapt to conditions in space, I don’t think anyone was predicting such a dramatic change in fortune. I just hope the spider duo get an extra treat for their troubles.
It turns out that the space station crew not only have spiders and butterflies in space to keep them company, they also have a collection of fruit flies to feed to the busy spiders. However, having seen the animated movie “Fly Me to the Moon” in August, we already know how flies adapt to space…