To some, watching a butterfly emerge from its cocoon, transformed from larva to magnificent winged beauty, is proof of nature’s great wonder. For two butterflies aboard the International Space Station, it was a wonder that they emerged at all. For the first time in history, two painted lady butterflies each survived the larvae stage, formed a chrysalis and emerged as mature butterflies.
The experiment, launched aboard the space shuttle Atlantis last month, is part of an ISS outreach experiment that lets students on the ground follow test subjects as they live life (and sometimes don’t) in orbit. And it should yield some interesting results.
For instance, though the butterflies should be able to fly given that the ISS is pressurized, who knows what flying in microgravity will be like for such delicate creatures? Will they grow naturally, or will the environment impede their growth, similar to the way it causes astronauts to atrophy during long space missions. Will they fall victim to some kind of Simpsons-esque calamity?
To keep up with this intrepid duo, you can periodically check in on the project’s Facebook page.