February 26, 2020

28.05.11: Spiders in SPACE (…ACE).

A Terrestrial Golden Orb Spider. (Image Credit: NASA & Danielle Anthony).

The recent final mission of the space shuttle Endeavour brought some very special residents to the International Space Station. Delivered in the cargo manifest of STS-134 was the Commercial Generic Bio-processing Apparatus Science Insert -05 containing a pair of golden orb spiders. Spider studies are not new in space; Spiders first flew aboard Skylab and later on STS-126, and a smaller spider study had been conducted aboard the ISS in 2008. What sets this study apart is the size and scope; this study is set to run for a continuous 45-day stretch and also contains a fruit fly food supply, itself part of a smaller study. Students on the ground will be able to observe via infrared cameras how the spiders are progressing and adapting to weightlessness and compare them to spiders in their own classroom habitats.

Why study spiders in space? Well, it’s still not completely understood how these micro-architects can perform their tiny feats of engineering. Will they adapt, or be utterly confused by zero-G? Golden Orb spiders are also known for spinning three dimensional, asymmetric webs in contrast to spiders previously flown.

Good luck to these “spidernauts…” it’ll be interesting to see how they and their student counterparts compare and perform!


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