KU monarch caterpillars teach students nationwide about space travel and its effects

When the space shuttle Atlantis blasted off in November, headed for the international space station, it carried three monarch caterpillars.

The KU-based Monarch Watch supplied not only the caterpillars, the first of their species in space, but also their custom diet to NASA.

As the insects grew and metamorphosed in micro-gravity orbit, students in 42 Kansas communities — including Colby, Salina, and Osawatomie — and 400 more nationwide used kits from Monarch Watch to raise their own monarchs, comparing their development with the space butterflies.

“We wanted to learn as much as we could about this insect and how it functioned in space,” said Chip Taylor, Monarch Watch director.

Steve Hawley, KU professor of physics and astronomy — a former NASA astronaut and veteran of five space shuttle missions — appreciates the larger lesson of orbiting butterflies: “The more we learn about how physiology works in space,” he said, “the more we’ll be able to use that information to understand fundamentally how biological systems work.”



Monarch Watch director Chip Taylor


Steve Hawley, professor of physics and astronomy and a former astronaut, is a native of Salina.

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