Painted Ladies in Space

High schoolers ask: would metamorphosis aboard a space shuttle mission yield normal butterflies?

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Back in their Georgia classroom after the shuttle launch in late July 1999, the students anxiously watched their experiment unfold on the Internet. The fate of their habitat had been entrusted to Lieut. Col. Eileen Collins, the first woman to command a shuttle mission. NASA ground personnel relayed real-time images of the insects in their clear Lexan box. The larvae, floating and turning in the air, slowly formed chrysalises around themselves. And one by one, from the crusted chrysalises the students had already affixed to the crossbar, emerged three-inch-wide butterflies dappled with pale orange, white, brown and black. Nature had prevailed.

"This museum is dedicated to all explorers of air and space," says Gen. John R. Dailey, director of the National Air and Space Museum, and formerly second in command at NASA. "These butterflies show that young people, not just adults, can be space explorers, contributing to knowledge."

Through its research opportunities and Internet broadcasts, SPACEHAB hopes to expand the S*T*A*R*S program to reach hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of students around the world. Next April, six more student experiments will fly aboard the shuttle, including a silkworm experiment designed by Chinese students. Already, this past March, a S*T*A*R*S experiment—involving teams of students from around the world—was begun on Zvezda, an all-purpose Russian module on the space station.

Kimberly Campbell, S*T*A*R*S’ program manager, believes the main benefit of the student programs will be kindling enthusiasm for space, science and engineering. "It challenges young minds to ask 'Why?' and provides the tools necessary to discover the answers on their own."

by Julie Wakefield

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