Did you know that there were “Ant-stronauts”? Yes, Ant Astronauts! I was so amazed when I found out that this humble creature has already reached space.
The ants were on board of the International Space Station (ISS) as part of the Ants in Space CSI-06 investigation. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) and NASA collaborated with a team at Stanford University headed by Ecologist Deborah Gordon who is the Principal Investigator of the project.
Gordon studies the ants to observe their behavior when they collectively search for resources. Her investigation would reveal the adaptability and resourcefulness of an ant colony even in the harshest environment. The data gathered from this investigation could provide valuable algorithms for application in robotics and explorations.
The select “ant-stronauts” were pavement ants (Tetramorium caespitum). They were housed in an apparatus called Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus Science Insert (CSI) during the launch and while on-board the ISS. How cool is that?
Now, I am reminded of the ant infestation in my Grandmother’s house in Bakersfield. I am not sure if it was a common pavement ant like the “ant-stronauts” but it was all over her house. My grandma is very particular about cleanliness so she didn’t have an idea where the ants came from. The ants just didn’t go after the food, they also colonized her cabinets. Even her trusty mothballs didn’t stop the invasion. Defeated, my grandma called an exterminator in Bakersfield CA to deal with the problem. It didn’t take long from the time they did the pest control that ants were all gone. Grandma nagged Mom to have our home checked as well. True enough, there were signs of pests in our house that we have not noticed. The exterminator fixed them, too.
Going back to our hero of the day, the “ant-stronauts“, the search algorithms observed from their behavior can be applied to robotic technology. This would allow missions to operate with minimal supervision and control. It would also help in developing cheaper and more efficient search and exploration strategies. Think about using this to explore Mars and other distant planets!
It is interesting to know that simple insects, such as ants, can inspire scientists to create things that can possibly take us to the next level in space exploration. I wonder what insect will be the next astronaut.
The researchers encourage people to conduct their own experiments, too. Research guides and resources are available online. I am actually thinking of doing it but I have not seen an ant in our house for a long time. It seems like the pest control really worked!