What a great way to make learning fun for kids.
NASA boffins have announced plans to fly a suitcase full of live butterflies up to the International Space Station, in a project appropriately named "Butterflies In Space". Scientists in charge of Butterflies In Space have announced that a special space insect habitat will be launched into orbit aboard space shuttle Atlantis …
Sure they are not butterflynauts since we are not humanauts or peoplenauts. Speaking purely from a scientific p.o.v. its the developing pupae that will be the most interesting part of the experiment. It's still an open question as to how much zero g or microgravity will affect development. We need to know if we are ever to have permanent colonies in space.
So we encourage kids to compare how butterfly develop in space on a special diet in a million-dollar vivarium (presumably with controlled temp, humidity, atmosphere an light cycles) with how they develop on earth while fed gatorade in a cardboard box near the radiator in the back of the classroom? I'm betting they'll make a lot of interesting findings. (the last sentence being heavy sarcasm in case you didn't get it)
When I was a kid oh-so-many-moons-ago, I was inspired by *launching* rockets. Butterflies were meant to be pinned on boards. (And the World Book Encyclopedia contained projects like creating a model ion drive using an ignition coil!)
But where is science education now?
That all depends on what happens, surely? Are you aware for eg of what butterflies eat? nectar. Which is largely glucose/sucrose. Hmmm what commonly available liquid glucose/sucrose source is there? right, sports drinks. Food safety regs mean the gatorade is essentially sterile too. Therefore it is an ideal food for captured lepidoptera.
If they also have pupae then they will develop normally kept like that so they will indeed be perfectly adequate controls. I suggest to you that you are focussing on differences in the setups that are not important to the experimental design and are not as different or as significant as you think, especially since you don't know that they space butterflies will be fed anything other than gatorade. You simply assume otherwise.
I'll say it again, butterflies eat, glucose/sucrose solution.
I think we've strayed from the point, butterflies are not a space food regardless of how much sports drink you feed them. At least I hope not, for all our sakes.
The project is designed to find out how well butterflies can develop in space. Why? Who really cares? If scientists can really extrapolate how well human colonies will develop from a box of butterflies then we need to put them to work on some of the more serious problems facing mankind such as how do you inevitably end up with an odd sock despite only ever purchasing an even number and despite doing your own laundry.
"I suggest to you that you are focussing on differences in the setups that are not important to the experimental design and are not as different or as significant as you think, especially since you don't know that they space butterflies will be fed anything other than gatorade. You simply assume otherwise."
I assume that space butterfly will be fed standard lab butterfly diet, which is definitely NOT gatorade, especially for the larvae. You're thinking Imago, and that's actually the less relevant stage when studiyng development.
And the diet is actually probably one of the less important among the points I cited. The most important would probably be temperature, light cycles should prove crucial too, and I would expect humidity and air quality to play a significant role. Actually any of these points (including diet) would probably have more impact on development that the reduced gravity. I would expect gravity to have significant effects on frog developpment (the onset of embryo polarity is mostly gravity-driven in the frog if I remember correctly), but butterflies are not frogs (well, last time I checked they weren't).
To use your own style, I humbly* suggest to you that you might not know what you are talking about as much as you think you do.
Let's have a beer and forget about this publicity stunt that will unfortunately spread bad science (as publicity stunts tend to do). I'm sure that the ground boffins involved in this project will have the correct controls (including same diet, same light cycles, same breeding enclosure, and /tutti quanty/). Teaching students that they can compare this to their own shelf-bred butterflies is still a shameless pseudoscience publicity stunt though. Nevermind, they probably _had_ to include this BS in the project so as to get more funding. Just another example showing that politics-driven funding of science projects is a bad idea. Also, I'm wondering how much they got from whomever owns the Gatorade trademark.
* my addition
** Just so that you know, Butterfly eggs have an oblong shape and are usually led on whatever surface is available, which means they end up in an infinite variation of angles relatively to gravity, but still the embryos always develop the same way. Development is therefore unlikely to majorly depend on gravity. As opposed to frog (for example) eggs which are spherical and for which the polarization towards the vegetative (vitellus stock) and animal (the future critter) poles is thought to be driven by gravity. Also this double asterisk bootnote doesn't have an origin in my post, you can stop searching.
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