Spider Success! Weightless Webs Spun in Space

Spider Success! Weightless Webs Spun in Space
Two orb-weaving spiders sit in the middle of their respective, symmetrical webs aboard the International Space Station on Nov. 20, 2008. (Image credit: NASA/CU)

Two plucky spiders on the International Space Station have bounced back from a tangled false start to weave amazing new webs in zero gravity, astronauts said Friday.

The orb-weaving spiders were transported to the station aboard NASA's shuttle Endeavour earlier this week, but initially wove an aimless concoction in their lab enclosure during their first days in weightlessness. But now they've taken another stab at weightless web construction.

"We noticed the spiders made a symmetrical web," the space station's current skipper Michael Fincke radioed to Mission Control today. "It looks beautiful."

Fincke said he was amazed at how fast the two eight-legged creatures appear to have adapted to living in space.

The spiders are part of an experiment aimed at sparking interest in science among students on Earth. The arachnids are the same kind of spider as "Charlotte" in the children's book "Charlotte's Web" by E.B. White.

Students on Earth will compare the webs of the space station's spiders with those of similar arachnids on Earth for the next few months. They'll also follow the lifecycle of painted lady butterfly larvae, which also are part of the experiment. The University of Colorado at Boulder is overseeing the experiment and provided an ample supply of fruit flies to feed the spiders, and nectar for the butterflies that will eventually emerge.

Along with the experiment, Endeavour astronauts are undertaking a major home renovation mission at the International Space Station. They delivered a second kitchen and bathroom, two new astronaut bedrooms, additional gym equipment, a space food fridge and a water recycling system that turns urine into drinking water.

Mission Control noticed the new spider web early Thursday and gave Fincke and his station crewmates a heads-up to look out for it.

"While y'all have been busy doing your extreme makeover, our spiders have done an extreme makeover and have torn down their first web and have made another one," flight controllers said.

On Friday, flight controllers on Earth said the space station spiders were their new source of space entertainment.

"I thought we were your main entertainment, but I guess we've been taken over by spiders," Fincke said.

NASA is providing live coverage of Endeavour's STS-126 mission on NASA TV. Click here for SPACE.com's mission coverage and NASA TV feed.

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at Space.com and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.