When I first joined the staff here at Giant Freakin’ Robot, I knew I would probably be covering some truly bizarre and fascinating stories. Now I find myself writing about a “space spider,” and much to my disappointment, I’m not describing giant alien spiders from another world who have come to harvest us all. Hell, I’m not even writing this huddled inside a disused fallout shelter, listening to the screams of people trapped in the enormous webs outside. Alas, that story will have to wait till another day (possibly December 21, 2012), but we can take comfort that I do get the chance to celebrate the exciting life of Nefertiti: Spidernaut.
Nefertiti — Neffi for short — was a red-backed jumping spider. She boldly went where few arachnids have gone before, spending a 100-day, 42-million-mile trip aboard the International Space Station. She was part of a study to determine how a spider’s hunting techniques would adapt to microgravity. After returning from her mission, Neffi had settled into a quiet retirement at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History only last week. Sadly, Neffi was discovered dead yesterday morning, of natural causes. (Which begs the question: did they do an autopsy on a spider? Does that require some sort of special licensing?)
Nevertheless, Neffi had a good run, making it to 10 months old. That may not sound like much, but her species, Phidippus johnsoni, typically only lives for around a year. The Smithsonian broke the news on their Facebook page, saying:
The loss of this special animal that inspired so many imaginations will be felt throughout the museum community. The body of Neffi will be added to the museum’s collection of specimens where she will continue to contribute to the understanding of spiders.
That sounds very nice and all, but this is a freakin’ Spidernaut we’re talking about here! Shouldn’t she get her ashes dumped in orbit, or get fired out into the void inside a photon torpedo tube?