Published November 19, 2008
Pity the space spiders and the webs they weave.
A pair of orb weaver spiders flying aboard the International Space Station have fought a battle with weightlessness and lost.
When astronauts took a peek at the spiders' webs on Monday, they found a tangled concoction that was a far cry from the elegant symmetrical, creations of their eight-legged brethren on Earth.
"The web was more or less three-dimensional and it looked like it was all over the inside of the spider hab," said NASA astronaut Sandra Magnus, the space station's science officer. "We took some pictures of it, so hopefully they will turn out."
"So it was more of a tangled, disorganized-looking web rather than the standard, like 'Charlotte's Web,' kind of web?" asked Mission Control.
After all, the fictional spider Charlotte from the children's book "Charlotte's Web" by E.B. White was an orb weaver spider, too.
"There was no symmetry that was noticeable in it," Magnus replied.
Despite weaving a tangled web, the spiders appeared to be doing well. The spiders launched to the space station a supply of tasty fruit flies for food aboard NASA's shuttle Endeavour last Friday as part of a science experiment to promote interest in science and technology among students between grades K-12 on Earth.
Painted lady butterfly larvae were also included as a separate part of the experiment.
Students will compare the space butterflies' lifecycle and how the spiders weave webs and feed in weightlessness with similar spiders and butterflies on Earth.
Meanwhile, Endeavour astronauts are began the first of four spacewalks outside the space station today to maintain the orbiting lab clean metal grit out from a damaged solar wing gear.
Endeavour ferried Magnus to the station as part of a planned 15-day mission to deliver a new bathroom, kitchen, gym, two extra bedrooms and a recycling system that turns urine into drinking water so the research facility can double the number of astronauts that can live aboard.
So far, there's been only one problem. Astronauts could only find one of the space spiders inside their habitat.
"We're not missing a spider," space station flight director Holly Ridings assured reporters Monday, adding that — since it's NASA — there is a backup spider with his own designated area. "The way it was explained to me, he came out of his bedroom and may be into the living room of the house."
The wayward spider is definitely not running amuck inside the space station, NASA said.
"We don't believe that it's escaped the overall payload enclosure," said Kirk Shireman, NASA's deputy station program manager. "I'm sure we'll find him spinning a web sometime here in the next few days."
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