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Butterflies in Space

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With approximately 20,000 species on Earth, butterflies are among the world's most recognizable and popular insects. In 2009, four painted lady butterflies flew aboard space shuttle Atlantis to the International Space Station, where they grew and lived. Students can use original photos from the mission to conduct open-ended scientific investigations to learn how gravity and microgravity affect the life cycle of painted lady (Vanessa cardui) butterflies.

Developed and conducted by the Center for Educational Outreach, Baylor College of Medicine, in collaboration with BioServe Space Technologies (University of Colorado), and the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Background Information: Click Here

Painted Lady Butterflies in Space! On November 16, 2009, larvae that hatched six days earlier flew aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis to the International Space Station. While in space, they were monitored continually, with photos and video transmitted hourly to the BCM and BioServe teams on Earth.

The larvae successfully fed, grew, formed chrysalises, and emerged as adult butterflies. The historic space experiment concluded on December 10, 2009, but photos and video from the mission remain available on BioEd Online (see below). We invite you and your students to perform butterfly investigations in your own classrooms, and compare your Earth-based butterflies to those that lived on ISS. The free Butterflies in Space Teacher’s Guide provides instructions for setting up ground-based butterfly habitats and helping students to design their own experiments.

Developed and conducted in collaboration with BioServe Space Technologies of the University of Colorado, and the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Complete Teacher Guide

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Butterflies in Space

Follow life cycle of Painted Lady Butterflies on ISS. Grow your own butterflies in class, and compare them to the space butterflies.

Classroom SlidesSlide Set

Classroom Slides

Slide set containing information and images from the Butterflies in Space Teacher's Guide, for use in classrooms as needed.

Videos, Photos and Slides

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Build a Butterfly Habitat

Learn how to construct a butterfly habitat using inexpensive materials, obtain larvae, and feed and care for butterflies.

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ISS Experiment Photos, STS-129 (2009)

Daily photo updates from the STS-129 "Butterflies in Space" experiment.

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Ground-based Experiment Photos, STS-129 (2009)

Ground-based: Larvae hatched 11/09/2009 (seven days old when STS-129 launched).

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2008 pilot mission photos (ISS)

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) butterfly larvae in their habitat aboard the ISS, part of the 2008 pilot Butterflies and Spiders in Space project.

Supplemental Classroom Guides

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Scientific Image Processing

Students learn how to obtain and use ImageJ image processing software (free) to enhance subtle details in photos of an organism or experiment sample.

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Designing Your Investigation

Details key steps for conducting a scientific investigation (i.e., begin with a question, design a procedure to collect the required data, etc.).

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Naturalist Journals

Covers the uses and benefits of naturalist journals, which scientists have employed for centuries to organize data into a meaningful form through sketches, pictures, and written observations.

Related Content

Nancy Moreno follows butterflies launched into spaceExternal Link

Nancy Moreno follows butterflies launched into space

EarthSky Podcast: Nancy Moreno explains that the butterflies in space experiment will help scientists – and students – understand how gravity influences growth.

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Exploring Microgravity

What is gravity? How does it impact objects on Earth and in space? What conditions do astronauts experience in microgravity, and how those conditions influence life and research during space missions?

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Rockets: Force and Motion

Basic information about how astronauts and scientific experiments are launched into space.

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Rockets (Educator’s Guide)

Lessons and hands-on activities that enable students to examine the history, science, technology, engineering and mathematics of rockets and rocketry.

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STS-129 Shuttle Mission Imagery

View photos of the STS-129 Mission from ground preparation to experiments aboard the ISS.

STS-129 Mission Information (Website)External Link

STS-129 Mission Information (Website)

Learn more about the Space Shuttle mission that transported the Butterflies in Space experiment to ISS.

Related Content


Funded by the following grant(s)

National Space Biomedical Research Institute

National Space Biomedical Research Institute

This work was supported by National Space Biomedical Research Institute through NASA cooperative agreement NCC 9-58.


Houston Endowment Inc.

Houston Endowment Inc.

Foundations for the Future: Capitalizing on Technology to Promote Equity, Access and Quality in Elementary Science Education; Opening Pathways for Teacher Instructional Opportunities in Natural Sciences


Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Science Education Leadership Fellows Program
Grant Numbers: 51006084, 51004102, 51000105