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Last month we launched our Monarchs in Space project and as many of you know, it came together in a very short time. We began working with BioServe Space Technologies at the University of Colorado in April – they were interested in determining if it was possible to send monarchs into space. We provided them with caterpillars and various versions of our constantly evolving artificial diet over the months and in mid October they informed us that they wanted monarch caterpillars to send to the International Space Station on the shuttle Atlantis due to launch on the 16th of November. Wow – this didn’t give us much time!
We immediately thought of getting schools involved in this unique educational opportunity, but due to numerous meetings and other commitments we weren’t able to really focus on this possibility until late October. Early in November, BioServe said they could provide rearing chambers to 20 schools if we could come up with the names and addresses of those willing to participate. Late in the afternoon of the 4th of November, we sent an message out to our email subscriber list asking for willing participants and posted our request in a blog entry as well. We had over 200 responses in the first 2 hours and nearly 900 responses by the deadline two days later. We had an interesting problem – there were too many people interested in these kits!
Several questions had to be answered. Could we come up with an alternate plan? Could we instruct people how to make their own monarch habitats? Could we produce enough caterpillars of the right age to ship to participants in time for the shuttle launch? We struggled with these issues, but eventually came up with “Monarchs in Space, Plan B” and announced this alternative late on Friday the 6th – just 10 days before the scheduled shuttle launch. As the responses rolled in we sprang into action, making diet, isolating caterpillars, assembling supplies, preparing instructions, and processing orders. We called in all of our students and volunteers and asked friends and family for help as well. The next six days were hectic and involved long hours, but on the 11th and 12th we managed to ship out 425 packages containing 570 kits and distribute another 30 kits locally.
Andrea (age 10) and Jake (age 8) show off their Monarchs in Space art on location from the Space Coast near Melbourne, FL as the Space Shuttle Atlantis streaks across the sky in the background. Very cool!
The project has now come to a close and we have asked participants to help us evaluate this program via a brief online survey so that we can improve the kits and instructions as we develop new projects for 2010 and beyond. We know we missed a few things. In retrospect, we should have realized that this time of year many classrooms are cold relative to what monarchs need and that many would find it difficult to maintain the habitats at the recommended 75F to match the conditions on the International Space Station. We also should have provided more guidance on how to use the diet – sparingly at first and then added as needed by the growing caterpillars.
Overall, the Monarchs in Space project has been a great success. The results of the project, including those of the survey will be posted on the Monarchs in Space page soon. If you haven’t checked it out yet, please do so – we’ve posted lots of photos, videos, and links you may enjoy.