Butterflies In Spaaaace!
Gatorade-quaffing Painted Ladies to fly to ISS
NASA boffins have announced plans to fly a suitcase full of live butterflies up to the International Space Station, in a project appropriately named "Butterflies In Space".
Scientists in charge of Butterflies In Space have announced that a special space insect habitat will be launched into orbit aboard space shuttle Atlantis next week. In the "suitcase-sized" Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus (CGBA) will travel Monarch and Painted Lady "butterflynauts", as well as larvae which will pupate and then emerge fully-fledged while actually in space.
"Our continuing goal is to inspire students around the country in science, technology, engineering and math," said Louis Stodieck, principal boffin on the project.
The idea is that thousands of schoolchildren across the States will study the effects of living in space on the butterflies, in many cases comparing the insectonauts' progress and lifestyle with Earthbound examples of the same species in their classrooms.
According to the project's website, this is not merely a case of NASA sending butterflies into space just because they can. No, there's valuable scientific research to be done here:
It will be instructive to see how monarchs function in a microgravity environment in which near weightlessness is the prevailing condition... if monarchs perform all life functions normally, in spite of the near weightless conditions, it will tell us that there are aspects of the monarch’s nervous control and physiology that allow for adjustments under such adverse conditions.
The many classroom butterflies down on Earth may suffer an equally grisly fate to the spacegoing ones, it would appear. According to the Butterflies In Space Q&A:
Releases are not advised. These are not migratory monarchs and it is already too late in the season. The next challenge might be to see how long you can keep your monarchs alive. They can be maintained at home or in the classroom on Gatorade for months, if relatively inactive.
The scientists don't specify that the astro-butterflies will also be fed on Gatorade, but do mention an "artificial diet that will work in transit and on the ISS", presumably not unrelated to the well-known sports drink.
PS @ Muscleguy
To use your own style, I humbly* suggest to you that you might not know what you are talking about as much as you think you do.
Let's have a beer and forget about this publicity stunt that will unfortunately spread bad science (as publicity stunts tend to do). I'm sure that the ground boffins involved in this project will have the correct controls (including same diet, same light cycles, same breeding enclosure, and /tutti quanty/). Teaching students that they can compare this to their own shelf-bred butterflies is still a shameless pseudoscience publicity stunt though. Nevermind, they probably _had_ to include this BS in the project so as to get more funding. Just another example showing that politics-driven funding of science projects is a bad idea. Also, I'm wondering how much they got from whomever owns the Gatorade trademark.
* my addition
** Just so that you know, Butterfly eggs have an oblong shape and are usually led on whatever surface is available, which means they end up in an infinite variation of angles relatively to gravity, but still the embryos always develop the same way. Development is therefore unlikely to majorly depend on gravity. As opposed to frog (for example) eggs which are spherical and for which the polarization towards the vegetative (vitellus stock) and animal (the future critter) poles is thought to be driven by gravity. Also this double asterisk bootnote doesn't have an origin in my post, you can stop searching.
"I suggest to you that you are focussing on differences in the setups that are not important to the experimental design and are not as different or as significant as you think, especially since you don't know that they space butterflies will be fed anything other than gatorade. You simply assume otherwise."
I assume that space butterfly will be fed standard lab butterfly diet, which is definitely NOT gatorade, especially for the larvae. You're thinking Imago, and that's actually the less relevant stage when studiyng development.
And the diet is actually probably one of the less important among the points I cited. The most important would probably be temperature, light cycles should prove crucial too, and I would expect humidity and air quality to play a significant role. Actually any of these points (including diet) would probably have more impact on development that the reduced gravity. I would expect gravity to have significant effects on frog developpment (the onset of embryo polarity is mostly gravity-driven in the frog if I remember correctly), but butterflies are not frogs (well, last time I checked they weren't).
In other news.....
A new multi-billion dollar experiment team will be putting "things" in microwaves to "see what happens".