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December 4, 2012

Spider adapted to life on space station

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

Back in the grip of Earth's gravity, though, Neffi initially had trouble catching food. "She overshot when trying to leap," said Babbit. Humans, too, need to readapt to life on Earth after months in space. Bones weaken, eyes lose focus, muscles shrink.

After splashing down and being transferred to a laboratory in Colorado, Nefertiti needed one last ride. The company that built her habitat, BioServe Space Technologies, chose the Smithsonian's Insect Zoo as her retirement home.

It just so happened that the museum's new director, Kirk Johnson, was passing through Colorado. Johnson stowed Neffi inside a small plastic box, stashed her in his pocket and flew to Washington, delivering Neffi on Nov. 21.

Johnson called the responsibility stressful: "This spider has traveled 41.5 million miles. Splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. Flew to Japan, flew from California. This [was] a special spider."

Neffi's spacefaring companion, Cleopatra, did not even survive the journey. Poisoning is not suspected.

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