Spider Payload on Space Station Becomes a Media Hit, Internet Music Video

Nov 25, 2008
A spider launched to the International Space Station by CU-Boulder researchers as part of a K-12 outreach effort practices its web-spinning talents in the near-weightless environment of space. Image courtesy NASA

(PhysOrg.com) -- A University of Colorado at Boulder payload of web-spinning spiders and wannabe butterflies delivered to the International Space Station by the space shuttle Endeavour Nov. 14 has generated a buzz among scientists, astronauts, the news media and has even spawned an Internet video set to the music of "The Itsy-Bitsy Spider."

The story began Nov. 14 when a payload containing two orb-weaving spiders and six butterfly larvae was launched to the space station by CU-Boulder's BioServe Space Technologies. The project was designed to allow K-12 students to chart the behaviors of the creatures in the near-weightless environment of space and compare them with their earthbound counterparts.

Colorado and Texas students have their own spiders and butterfly larvae in their classrooms and are playing along at home, so to speak, comparing the differences using video and images beamed from the space station back to Earth by NASA.

The story literally "got some legs" following a news item in the Times of London Nov. 16 with a headline reading "NASA Loses Spider on the International Space Station." The report wasn't quite accurate -- the astronauts knew both spiders were in the payload compartment -- but could not see one of them because it was hidden from view.

The spider activity grabbed the attention of the public, appearing in national wire stories, on the MSNBC news Web site and on the Examiner.com Web site headquartered in San Francisco with regional links to dozens of large U.S. cities. The Examiner site posted a video featuring "space" spiders spinning weightless webs as NASA scientists described the behaviors in low gravity and a child's choir sings "The Itsy-Bitsy Spider."

"Don't forget about the butterflies," said Stefanie Countryman, BioServe's payload mission manager. The larvae -- some anchored to the habitat, others free-floating -- should enter the chrysalis, or pupa, stage by Thanksgiving, then emerge as full-fledged butterflies that hopefully will be flapping about in micro-gravity in about 10 days.

For more information on the project go to bioedonline.org/space/index.cfm

Provided by University of Colorado at Boulder

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User comments : 9

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Ausjin
5 / 5 (1) Nov 25, 2008
Well, more of a human interest story than news, but I have to admit that I am curious how flying insects will behave in microgravity. Does their instinctual navigation factor in gravity, or is it based purely on orientation and spacial relations?
Dinotron
5 / 5 (1) Nov 25, 2008
I think they'll be a dit disoriented at first, then, like all creatures usually do, they'll adapt to their environment.
yOnsa
1 / 5 (1) Nov 25, 2008
why is this a media hit? say it 'aint so momma!
_Scott_
not rated yet Nov 26, 2008
And I for one welcome our new insect overlords
ShadowRam
not rated yet Nov 26, 2008
would insect wings even work in microgravity?
SMLinDC
not rated yet Nov 26, 2008
This is a "media hit" because people can relate to a spider or a butterfly. Anything that causes the general population to focus on space science and our men and women in the ISS is a very GOOD thing for the future of the space program "momma."
Going
not rated yet Nov 28, 2008
The web look a mess to me. What does this reveal about the part a direction of gravity has on the neural "program" the spider uses to weave an orb web? How dies the spider sense the direction of gravity? What is the minimum G a spider needs to weave a decent web? All these remain unanswered.
smiffy
not rated yet Nov 28, 2008
You're a hard man to please, Going.

I don't think that the spider has done so bad. At least it hasn't lost its toolbag.
nevereverever
not rated yet Dec 01, 2008
So did this spider pass the exam....or did he muff the web.?