Thirteen-year-olds at Chapin Middle School are making history - and butterflies.
Eighth-grade students in Kim Berry's Flight and Aerospace class at Chapin Middle School are participating in a historical project, partnering with the NASA astronauts on the Atlantis Space Shuttle on a mission to observe butterflies in space.
Of course, the students are remaining on the ground in Chapin, observing Earthbound butterflies and watching the space work on the Internet.
In conjunction with the Nov. 16 launch of the Atlantis, the eighth-graders are growing butterflies and observing them as they transform from larvae into their fluttering forms.
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"I've told them that one day they're going to be reading (about this mission), and you're going to be able to say, 'I participated in that historical event,'" Berry said.
Astronauts are taking larvae, like those being observed at Chapin Middle School, into space to see how the butterflies fare in zero-gravity.
"We're trying to figure out how the butterflies are going to survive," said Ryan Caldwell, one of the eight-graders.
It's not just a frivolous project, Berry says. If man is ever going to live on the moon, pollination must occur for plants to grow. Butterflies are good pollinators.
Back on Earth - in Chapin - students will be logging the development of their larvae and comparing to the "butterflynauts," as they're referred to on the NASA webpage. The students record their findings on wikis - mini websites that are used for cooperative projects.
"I wanted to make it exciting for the kids," Berry said.
It all started when science coach Wendy Morris sent an e-mail to teachers telling them about the project.
"She really should know better than to send me these e-mails because I jump all over them," Berry said.
Berry made sure she was one of the first five teachers in the state to submit an application for the project, ensuring the S.C Coalition of Math and Science would assist getting the larvae to Chapin.
Once they arrived, students put larvae in small cups with food designed for the butterflies. Each student has one small cup of larvae, and three of those cups share a clear box, with the students working in teams of two or three.
While these butterflies will remain on Earth, the butterflynauts will be going where no other butterflies have dared to go.
NASA's website said the Painted Lady butterflies rode on the Atlantis to the International Space Station, where they will spend several months in space so their life cycles and behaviors in microgravity can be observed. "It's kind of different," said Stephanie Alomar-Nunez, one of the students. "It's really interesting, learning about butterflies going into space. I'm scared they won't be able to get out of their cocoons."
One of the things students are looking for with the butterflynauts is how they'll attach their chrysalis (cocoon). Butterflies usually attach the chrysalis so that it hangs down, which makes it easier to break out of. But in zero gravity, they won't be able to tell the difference between up and down.
While the NASA experiment will last until January or February, the Chapin Middle School students will release their butterflies after about two weeks.
"It's more active, more hands-on," said eighth-grader Matt Charpia. It's like they're part of the space mission - and that, he said, makes it more interesting.
- By Lezlie Patterson, for Lexington-Richland 5