Late last month the Genesis II Pathfinder spacecraft was delivered into orbit and along with it went a bold group of unwitting arthropods. Bigelow Aerospace was founded in 1999 with the vision of creating orbital hotels for “space tourists.” In an equally lucrative move, this Space Camp for bugs was conceived by Robert Bigelow, the company’s founder and namesake, while on vacation.
In the middle of last year, he called his payload team into a room and showed them five dirt-filled containers. Inside each one was an entire colony of ants that he had coaxed, prodded and pried from the ground into buckets. In a moment of brilliance, he informed the hapless rocket scientists that they must figure out how to include an ant farm on their rocket. When they protested, he released the hounds.
With renewed enthusiasm, the program grew to include a variety of arthropods, including scorpions, hissing cockroaches, Mexican Jumping Beans and Pogonomyrmex californicus, a local ant variety. Apparently, the critters exhibited the “right stuff,” undergoing the well funded, grown-up version of putting a bug under a magnifying glass:
We placed these animals in sealed environments to collect data on oxygen consumption, carbon dioxide emission, temperature and humidity; built terrariums decorated with rocks and tree bark; tested them for interspecies compatibility; froze them; fed them water-retaining crystals, dog food, rodent food and meal worms; made them climb lattices of strings; and tagged them with paints and rhinestones. Our arthroponauts amazed us with their ability to adapt and survive under pressure. We at Zooillogix really appreciate the “rhinestone” touch.
Much like the Apollo 11 mission, some have questioned whether the program was really scientifically necessary and not politically motivated. Bigelow Aerospace only fuels speculation with statements like this: “More than for any practical applications, Genesis II Biobox was an in-house experiment borne out of our joy for learning.” The only way to know for sure is to ask the critters themselves upon their return.
Buy your own, more affordable (and debatably cooler) Biobox here!