Arabella and Anita have the right stuff. These two common spiders were NASA’s first eight-legged astronauts! Anita and Arabella got their mission because a high-school student named Judy Miles wondered if spiders could spin webs in a weightless environment. She suggested sending spiders into space to find out. NASA space scientists liked her proposal and went to work designing special cages, lights, and cameras.
On August 5, 1973, Arabella and Anita blasted off into space on Skylab II. On her first day in orbit, Arabella didn’t do well. She spun sloppy webs and obviously felt the effects of weightlessness. However, by her third day in space, she was spinning just as though she were back at home. Her webs were finer in space, which was expected. But the pattern remained the same. She proved that spiders can spin nearly Earth-like webs in space.
Though Arabella and Anita have both died, their bodies remain at the Smithsonian, memorialized for their small, vital part in increasing our knowledge of space.
The source of this story is the book Odd Tales from the Smithsonian (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1986), written by Peggy Thomson and Edwards Park.
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