What do second graders at West Branch School and the astronauts aboard space shuttle Atlantis have in common? More than you'd think.
The kids at West Branch are participating in the Monarchs in Space program.
"The Monarchs in Space is a 'real science' lesson for these kids, said Stacie Lakatos, the second grade teacher at West Branch. "We are doing the same thing as real scientists and we are sharing the same data."
The program gives classrooms Monarch butterfly caterpillars to raise in conjunction with the same caterpillars that are put aboard the International Space Station. The kids then try to simulate the same environment as in space.
"We don't know what they'll do: bounce around, float or die," Isaac, a student in Lakatos' class, said.
Lakatos and the West Branch School have been doing the Monarchs in Space program for eight years, and the current second graders at WBS have done this project three years running.
"The only difference between the 'rearing chamber,' or the container, here versus the one on the Space Station is that they have microgravity; its not zero-gravity but similar to the weightlessness of water," Lakatos said.
At this stage of the program, "the caterpillars are ready to make chrysalis, which is the cocoon where they become Monarchs," Derya, said.
The class watches videos taken aboard the ISS as well as pictures taken every 30 minutes. They also got to watch the take-off of the shuttle on Nov. 18 as well as the docking to the station and the transfer of the caterpillars.
"Caterpillars always want to move up, so we weren't sure what they would do with less gravity," Spencer, a second grader, said,
The caterpillars are now halfway through metamorphosis, or a "big, big change" the kids chanted when asked what this meant.
"Were not sure what they will do when they become butterflies," Jon, a second grader, said. "They're probably going to sit back and just float and relax."
Lakatos said they continue to conduct experiments on the caterpillars, comparing growth, development, light and dark and direction of the fresh milkweed leaves.
Anyone can watch videos of the Monarchs in Space program at Nasa.gov to see what happens to the caterpillars. If successful metamorphosis occurs, the butterflies will be returned to Earth when the next shuttle comes in February.
"Caterpillars are awesome; our school is awesome - and fun!," Quentin, a second-grader, said.