Ants… in… Spaaace!

space_ants
Image: Edmund Scientifics

Orbital Sciences delayed Wednesday’s planned launch of a re-supply mission to the International Space Station. But what are they shipping to the ISS?

Along with fresh food, water, and clothes, this mission will also have a supply of ants.

These ants aren’t uninvited hitch-hikers, they’re VIPs getting a ride into space courtesy of a NASA project to partner with K-12 educational programs. This particular research effort will look at the ants’ foraging patterns and how their search patterns while looking for food change depending on their perception of how dense their population is. Previous ant research on the Space Shuttle and Space Station has shown that ants can change their behavior quite a bit in a microgravity environment, such as their tunneling patterns.

In this case, common pavement ants on Earth tend to search for food differently if they know there are a lot of compatriots in the area vs. if they are spread thinly. They assess their density based on the frequency at which they bump into other ants as they’re searching. The question is if they use the same density determination and if they change their search patterns the same way in space as they do on a downtown sidewalk.

Good scientific research needs control groups to compare to the experimental subjects, and in this case the controls will be ant colonies in hundreds of K-12 classrooms around the world. According to CU-Boulder:

Teachers interested in participating in the ant experiments may contact [Education Program Director] Countryman at countrym@colorado.edu. More information on the project for teachers and students will be online beginning in mid-January at http://www.bioedonline.org.

This is just one small example of the kind of research that ISS is doing, combined with the mission to get kids more involved in space science.

Hangout with Astronauts Today

International Space Station Expedition 34 Crew. Pictured on the front row are NASA astronaut Kevin Ford (right), commander; and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield, flight engineer. Pictured on the back row (from the left) are NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn, Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy, Evgeny Tarelkin and Roman Romanenko, all flight engineers. Image: NASA.
International Space Station Expedition 34 Crew. Pictured on the front row are NASA astronaut Kevin Ford (right), commander; and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield, flight engineer. Pictured on the back row (from the left) are NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn, Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy, Evgeny Tarelkin and Roman Romanenko, all flight engineers. Photo: NASA/Public Domain

Today, May 23rd, from 3-4 PM EDT, you can join a NASA hosted Google+ hangout with three of the former International Space Station (ISS) astronauts. NASA astronauts Kevin Ford and Tom Marshburn and Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Agency are back home in Houston, Texas, and undergoing physical rehabilitation after their recent return from their extended time in the nearly weightless environment.

The three are prepared to answer questions about their daily life on the orbiting outpost. As part of their normal onboard operations, the three were involved in scientific experiments, spacewalks, and normal maintenance.

Google+ Hangouts allow as many as 10 people or groups to chat face-to-face, while thousands more can watch the conversation live on Google+ or YouTube. The hangout also will be carried live on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

If you have a specific question that you would like to ask, submit it on twitter to the NASA social media team! Simply include #askAstro as part of your tweet, and it will be added to the pool of questions that will be answered. Just before the hangout begins, NASA will also be opening a discussion on its Facebook page for questions to be asked. Remember the more original and unique the question the more likely it is to be chosen.

NASA’s Google+ page: http:www.google.com/+NASA
NASA’s TV Streaming video: http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

Commander Chris Hadfield Sings Space Oddity

As “a last glimpse of the World,” Commander Chris Hadfield recorded a revised version of “Space Oddity” by David Bowie on board the International Space Station (ISS).

Watching it put something in my eye. That’s all I have to say about that.

After spending five months on board the ISS, and becoming the first Canadian Commander of the ISS in March,  Commander Hadfield is due to return tomorrow after a very successful mission.