The experiment is part of a K-12 curriculum that, when school is back in session, will let students compare the behavior of spiders kept in the classroom to the spidernauts.
On Earth, these spiders (Nephila clavipes) generally spin partially circular webs, ones that look like they have been lopped off at the top. But when spinning in space, the web ends up completely circular. The spiders, which use gravity to orient themselves, seem unsure which way to face at times, say researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Golden orb spiders normally use gravity when building the long lines that radiate from the web’s center — occasionally letting go to drop to the ground. But now when she lets go, Esmerelda doesn’t have gravity to bring her down, so she just floats instead of dropping.
This is the third space-spider investigation. Two orb weaver spiders were flown to the Skylab space station in 1973. More recently, two were carried to the International Space Station by the Space Shuttle Endeavor in 2008. The video above is a time-lapse of Esmerelda spinning, hunting and capturing fruit flies aboard the International Space Station.