Michael Pence Michael_Pence at qmgate.arc.nasa.gov
Fri Jul 21 01:15:34 EST 1995

                      Subject:                              Time:  3:19 PM
  OFFICE MEMO         INSECTS IN SPACE                      Date:  7/19/95

                          Are insects your model organism for research?
     Have you ever wondered how gravity and radiation affects insects in such
areas as:  molecular and cellular biology, developmental and reproductive
neuroscience, physiology, behavior, evolution and other disciplines?

     NASA is planning to conduct research in space using insects and we need
your help!  We have only scratched the surface on how life is affected in
space.  There is much more to be learned.  NASA and the National Academy of
Sciences/National Research Council Space Studies Board have identified
critical science questions that they believe the space environment can answer.
     Past studies have been conducted in space using insects with interesting
results.  For example, in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster,  mating is
possible without gravity, aging is accelerated in males, and there are
alterations in fecundity, embryo hatching rate, and embryo size.  There is
evidence that, even without gravity, developmental processes and morphogenesis
appear to be normal.  However, the ionizing cosmic radiation of space has been
shown to cause chromosomal nondisjuction and recombination.  In the flour
beetle, Tribolium confusum, the pupal period is increased and wing
abnormalities and mutations have been reported after space flight.  Past
flight experiments with the Gypsy moth  have shown a shortening of the
diapause cycle which causes sterile larvae.  An upcoming flight experiment
will use the Tobacco hornworm as a model to study hormone regulation of muscle
     There is also evidence of other changes of insects in space.  Honey bees
(Apis mellifica) were unable to fly normally and tumbled in weightlessness. 
House flies (Muscus domestica ) mostly limited themselves to walking on the
walls.  When they did fly, they apparently could control motion in all three
axes, although flight only lasted for a few seconds.  Moths (Anticarsis
gammatalis) that developed in space, learned not to fly and preferred to float
without wing beat.  Whereas adults that were developed on Earth, then sent
into space, had problems controlling pitch.  A spider (Araneous diadematus)
spun finer web thread in microgravity.
     There are many areas of research that have not yet been investigated with
insects in space and there is the potential to conduct more research in the
very near future.  NASA and its international partners are building the
International Space Station.  Laboratory modules and other components of the
station will be launched beginning in 1997 and it will be completed by 2002.
The Station will be ready for research by 1999.  
     One of the difficulties with conducting space research is that hardware
must be built to house specimens.  ***Therefore, we are requesting your help
in providing a "Reference Experiment".  This Reference Experiment will assist
NASA in designing future hardware and planning the experiments that you would
like to conduct in space.***  We need to know, for example, what specimen
type(s) and number(s) you would use, the experiment duration, what
measurements you need, and what materials/equipment and operations are
required to perform the experiment.  If you are interested in helping us with
a Reference Experiment, please contact me and I will provide you with more
information.  If you would like to know more about what NASA is doing in Life
Sciences contact the NASA OLMSA Home Page at
http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/olmsa and our Space Station Biological Research
Project server at http://pyroeis.arc.nasa.gov. 

I look forward to hearing from you!!

Michael Pence
Lockheed Martin Engineering and Science
NASA Ames Research Center
MS: T-20G-2
Moffett Field, CA 94035

email: Michael_Pence at qmgate.arc.nasa.gov
Tel: 415-604-1881
FAX: 415-604-1701

More information about the Bionews mailing list

Send comments to us at biosci-help [At] net.bio.net