Washington, November 18 (ANI): Reports indicate that NASA's space shuttle Atlantis is carrying butterflies, which will live in orbit aboard the International Space Station (ISS), as part of a science outreach project.
According to a report in Discovery News, the butterflies, which are currently caterpillars, will be transferred to the station to live out their lives in orbit.
"Usually kids in school have 'cookbook' science where you already know the outcome before you begin," Nancy Moreno, a biologist and science educator with the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, told Discovery News.
"This is a case where we really don't know that much about how these organisms will survive in microgravity," she said. "That's a unique opportunity for students," she added.
Pictures of the butterflies will be taken every 15 minutes and relayed to project organizers on the ground, who will post the images on websites.
The butterflies, which typically have a lifespan of about a month, will remain aboard the space station until the next shuttle flight in February.
"NASA attempted the experiment a year ago, but none of the critters developed past larvae," said John Uri, NASA's deputy manager of space station payloads.
"The problem was that the food they flew was from a new vender, and it turned out it was poor quality, and that's why the butterflies didn't develop," Uri told Discovery News. "They're hoping that with brand new food that's been totally tested that this group will do OK," he said.
Two species of butterflies are aboard the shuttle: painted lady and monarchs.
Scientists and students will be comparing how the space butterflies grow and develop compared to butterflies on the ground.
The animals will be contained in special habitats aboard the space station.
"They're not going to be flying around or anything," Uri said. (ANI)