HOUSTON – Students of all ages can follow the "butterflynauts" aboard the International Space Station as they develop from larvae into Painted Lady butterflies.
The educational experiment launched Nov. 16 on space shuttle Atlantis, and the butterfly habitat will be transferred to the Space Station within the first 2-3 days of the mission.
"About 100 elementary and middle school classrooms across the U.S. are participating in a pilot study by setting up ground-based habitats. Students will replicate the space experiment and compare the growth and behavior of their butterfly larvae with those living in the microgravity environment of space," said Dr. Greg Vogt, senior project manager at Baylor College of Medicine’s (BCM) Center for Educational Outreach.
In addition to the pilot group, all classrooms across the country are invited to participate by setting up their own butterfly habitats. Photos and video of the space larvae will be transmitted to Earth daily and will be made available on the BioEd Online website (http://www.bioedonline.org).
A free Butterflies in Space teacher’s guide can also be downloaded from the site. The guide provides information on ordering larvae, along with simple instructions on how to create a habitat and care for the larvae and butterflies. Examples of scientific investigations are provided so that students can perform their own experiments.
"Because the photos and video will be archived, classrooms can participate during the mission or wait until later," Vogt said. "Classes can begin the experiment whenever they wish and compare their classroom larvae with photos of space larvae at the same developmental stage."
During the mission, the public can visit BioEd Online to view streaming video of a ground-based version of the experiment. "We encourage people to participate by viewing the ground-based video and comparing it with the video and photos transmitted from the Space Station," Vogt said.
The educational activity is sponsored by the National Space Biomedical Research Institute and involves the cooperative effort of several science and education organizations. Project partners include BioServe Space Technologies of University of Colorado at Boulder, BCM, Orion’s Quest, The Butterfly Pavilion, Challenger Learning Center of Colorado and NASA Office of the Chief Scientist. Additional support is provided by the Houston Endowment Inc., and Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
"At launch, the larvae are six days old. It will take about five days to pupate and form a chrysalis," said Stefanie Countryman, BioServe payload mission manager. "In another seven to 10 days, the butterflies will emerge."
Throughout the experiment, students will be encouraged to compare larvae developing on Earth to those on the Space Station. Possible points of comparison include growth rates, feeding behavior, wing development and flight.
"Little is known about how butterflies rely on gravity for orientation, feeding and wing expansion," Vogt said. "So, students will have real opportunities to investigate unique questions and contribute to general scientific knowledge."
Students will learn the skill of scientific observation by making detailed sketches of the larvae as they develop. The experiment will teach them to ask scientific questions, observe details and differences, and make better comparisons between two groups.
"This is a chance for students to do everything that a scientist would do. They are setting up the habitat, maintaining it, monitoring it daily, providing food, collecting data and making comparisons," Vogt said.
This news release issued jointly by NSBRI and Baylor College of Medicine.