The space-traveling insects are part of a project dubbed "Butterflies in Space." Once they arrive at the ISS, K-12 students across America will monitor the CU-Boulder butterfly experiment, studying the effects space travel has on the bugs at the ISS compared to examples reared in their own classrooms.
According to Science Daily, the butterfly payload was designed by BioServe Space Technologies in the University of Colorado at Boulder's aerospace engineering department. The habitat will contain monarch butterflies and painted lady butterfly larvae with enough nectar and other food to support them as they develop.
ScienceDaily cites BioServe Payload Mission Manager Stefanie Countryman as saying the painted lady butterfly larvae will be six days old and the monarch butterflies will be about 10 days old at launch. Transferred from Atlantis to the ISS about two days later, it will take the butterfly larvae about five days to pupate and form a cocoon, and another seven to 10 days to emerge.
Participating classrooms across the country have been provided with kits containing butterfly larvae. Students will monitor the growth rates, feeding, pupation and the emergence of the butterflies, comparing what they see in their own classroom to what they're seeing in the images from the ISS. Images of the ISS habitat will be taken every 15 minutes, downlinked daily and uploaded to the web for students to see.
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