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Next stop for spiders: Outer space

Baylor College of Medicine is preparing to conduct an experiment that is out of this world.

In April, BCM's Center for Educational Outreach, in association with BioServe Space Technologies of Colorado, will send two orb weaver spiders to space aboard Space Shuttle Endeavor. Teachers and students around the world are encouraged to take part in this science investigation.

Studying spider behavior

BioServe will transport the spiders, in a special habitat, to NASA for stowing on the Space Shuttle, which will carry the spiders to the International Space Station. The habitat provides a safe environment, food and water, and also allows continuous monitoring. Students, teachers and any other interested persons around the world will be able to observe spider behaviors in microgravity.

Students and teachers are invited to conduct their own classroom investigations comparing ground-based spiders with those living in microgravity. To facilitate classroom experiments, BCM's Center for Educational Outreach is offering a free "Spiders in Space" guide on its BioEd Online website. The guide provides information on the orb weaver spider, instructions for housing and caring for a spider, and directions for setting up a classroom-based investigation. Once the spiders have reached ISS, BCM will transmit images of the space-based spider habitat via BioEd Online.

In-flight investigations

Students are encouraged to create their own research questions, and to compare the daily "space spider" images to their own classroom-based spiders and arrive at their own evidence-based results.

"We are excited about this approach," said Dr. Gregory Vogt, senior project manager in the Center for Educational Outreach. "We know from our past experience in flight investigations that opportunities like this demonstrate that science is fun, creative, accessible and something that real people can do."

For more information, or to download a copy of the free "Spiders in Space" activity guide, visit BioEd Online.