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Spiders in Space

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As part of a global classroom experiment, two golden orb spiders (Nephila clavipes) lived in space and on the International Space Station (ISS) from May 16 to July 21, 2011. All videos, photos, teacher information, and other resources needed to re-create the investigation are available on BioEd Online so your students can conduct the experiment whenever and as often as you like.

Set up a ground-based “control” investigation in your classroom, download spider photographs taken from the ISS, and compare your outcomes to those of spiders in space.

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

Investigation Information: Click Here

Astronaut Cady Coleman named the two “spidernauts” Gladys (Habitat One) and Esmeralda (Habitat Two). The spiders lived in separate chambers installed within the Bioserve Commerical Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus, which provided the power source to run the lighting and camera module systems for the habitats, onboard the ISS.

Each habitat contained a food supply of living fruit flies and was equipped with cameras and lighting systems. The lights were set to a 24-hour cycle that provided 12 hours of “daylight” and 12 hours of “nighttime.” Photographs taken at “night” were captured using infrared light.

Gladys and Esmeralda were transported to ISS on the space shuttle Endeavour (STS-134) and returned to Earth on July 21, 2011, as part of the space shuttle's final mission (STS-135). Upon her return, Gladys presented student investigators with a surprise. Still thriving, she was examined carefully, and it was discovered that “she” was really a “he,” a male golden orb spider. We quickly changed the name  Gladys to Gladstone. The male spider showed no signs of “jet lag” upon returning to Earth’s gravity. He drank water and climbed to the top of the habitat, as would be normal. Unfortunately, Gladstone's partner, Esmeralda, did not survive the flight home. But she lived out her normal life span in space.

Esmeralda and Gladstone contribute to science. Hourly images of the spiders are available on BioEd Online (see below). The free Spiders in Space Teacher’s Guide provides instructions for setting up ground-based spider habitats and helping students to design their own experiments. We invite you to use these resources and compare the behavior of spiders on Earth to that of Esmeralda and Gladstone during their travels in space.

Complete Teacher's Guide

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Spiders in Space

Students conduct open-ended scientific investigations to discover how gravity and microgravity affect the life cycle and web design of orb spiders (Nephila clavipes).

Classroom SlidesSlide Set

Classroom Slides

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

Videos, Photos and Slides

Explore BioEd Online’s media library to view spiders living on the ISS, gather background information, and form investigation questions. All videos, photos, and slides are free for classroom use.

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Build a Spider Habitat

Dr. Greg Vogt demonstrates how easy it is to build a spider habitat using inexpensive materials.

Thumbnail Image for Esmerelda Feeding Frenzy - May 27, 2011 Video

Esmerelda Feeding Frenzy

Esmerelda, a "spidernaut aboard the International Space Station, goes on a feeding frenzy after mass hatchings of fruit flies

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Hab 2 Photos (Space)

Timed photos from Habitat 2, containing a Nephila clavipes orb weaver spider, water and its food source (fruit flies), aboard the ISS.

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Hab 1 Photos (Space)

Timed photos from Habitat 1, containing a Nephila clavipes orb weaver spider, water and its food source (fruit flies), aboard the ISS.

Thumbnail Image for Metepeira labyrinthea: Spiders in Space Pilot 2008 Video

Metepeira labyrinthea: Spiders in Space Pilot 2008

Metepeira labyrinthea, on board the ISS during the pilot "Spiders" Mission in 2008.

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2008 pilot mission photos (Space)

Orb weaver spiders in their habitats aboard the ISS, part of the 2008 pilot Butterflies and Spiders in Space project (NASA Mission STS-126).

Thumbnail Image for Special Set: Spidernauts Molting File Download

Special Set: Spidernauts Molting

Images of the Spidernauts Molting (PowerPoint format)

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.

Additional Resources

NASA STS-134 Mission InformationExternal Link

NASA STS-134 Mission Information

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

NASA STS-126 Pilot Mission InformationExternal Link

NASA STS-126 Pilot Mission Information

Before Esmerelda and Gladys took to the heavens on STS-134 in 2001, another spider pair flew on STS-126 as part of the pilot Spiders in Space program in 2008. Learn more that mission on the NASA site.

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NASA STS-126 Pilot Mission Photos

On November 14, 2008, two orb weaver spiders were launched to the ISS on Space Shuttle Endeavor (NASA Mission STS-126). This set of images is from that mission.

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National Space Biomedical Research Institute

National Space Biomedical Research Institute

Development of the original field-test for the Butterflies and Spiders in Space project 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