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Bat Catches Ride with Space Shuttle

You can't make this stuff up! A bat was spotting clinging to the external fuel tank of the space shuttle Discovery when it launched on Sunday.

Highlights of the article are:

"He did change the direction he was pointing from time to time throughout countdown but ultimately never flew away," states a NASA memo obtained by SPACE.com. "Infrared imagery shows he was alive and not frozen like many would think ... Liftoff imagery analysis confirmed that he held on until at least the vehicle cleared [the] tower before we lost sight of him."

Officials at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., where Discovery launched from a seaside pad, said the bat's outlook after launch appears grim.


(The article gets points for using the word "grim" in a sentence.)

"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," NASA officials said Tuesday. "The animal likely perished quickly during Discovery's climb into orbit."


The doomed creature was spotted by the pre-flight inspection team and was given a Interim Problem Number.

In the hours before Discovery's liftoff, NASA's Final Inspection Team (called the "ICE team") investigated whether the creature would pose a risk to the shuttle if its body impacted the orbiter's sensitive heat shield tiling. Ultimately, NASA officials signed a waiver confirming that the bat was safe to fly with.

"The bat eventually became 'Interim Problem Report 119V-0080' after the ICE team finished their walkdown," the memo said. "Systems Engineering and Integration performed a debris analysis on him and ultimately a Launch Commit Criteria waiver to ICE-01 was written to accept the stowaway."


Apparently this wasn't the first time this has happened.

This isn't the first time a bat has attempted to travel into space. Another bat was seen clinging to the side of the external tank attached to the shuttle Endeavour on its STS-72 flight in 1996. That one maybe have been a bit more cautious, though: It flew away to safety right before launch.

Coincidentally, an astronaut aboard that flight, Koichi Wakata of Japan, also flew on Discovery this week, making him the first spaceflyer to share two rides with bats. Discovery's STS-119 mission is headed to the International Space Station to drop off the final segment of the lab's backbone truss and set of solar array panels.

NASA officials said a bat also set down on the external tank for the shuttle Columbia during its STS-90 mission in 1998. That bat also flitted away to safety during liftoff, they added.


Koichi Wakata is Batman!
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