This free tail bat was hanging on to space shuttle Discovery as
the countdown proceeded. Photo credit: NASA
The bat was seen on the external tank as the shuttle cleared the
launch tower at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Photo credit: NASA
A bat that was clinging to space shuttle Discovery’s external
fuel tank during the countdown to launch the STS-119 mission
remained with the spacecraft as it cleared the tower, analysts
at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center concluded.
Based on images and video, a wildlife expert who provides
support to the center said the small creature was a free tail bat
that likely had a broken left wing and some problem with its
right shoulder or wrist. The animal likely perished quickly
during Discovery’s climb into orbit.
Because the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge coexists
inside Kennedy Space Center, the launch pads have a number
of measures available, including warning sirens, to deter birds
and other creatures from getting too close. The launch team
also uses radar to watch for birds before a shuttle liftoff.
Nevertheless, the bat stayed in place and it was seen changing
positions from time to time.
Launch controllers spotted the bat after it had clawed onto the
foam of the external tank as Discovery stood at Launch Pad 39A.
The temperature never dropped below 60 degrees at that part
of the tank, and infrared cameras showed that the bat was 70
degrees through launch.
The final inspection team that surveys the outside of the shuttle
and tank for signs of ice buildup observed the small bat, hoping
it would wake up and fly away before the shuttle engines ignited.
It was not the first bat to land on a shuttle during a countdown.
Previously, one of the winged creatures landed on the tank during
the countdown to launch shuttle Columbia on its STS-90 mission
NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center