Absolutely Incredible Photo: Frog Launches With LADEE

by Nancy Atkinson on September 11, 2013

An unfortunate frog at the launch of LADEE from the Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia on September 6, 2013. Credit NASA/Wallops/Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport

An unfortunate frog at the launch of LADEE from the Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia on September 6, 2013. Credit NASA/Wallops/Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport

Oh my! We’re not sure to laugh or cry on this one (maybe both). This frog gives new meaning to “flying leap,” (or giant leap). This little guy was obviously startled by the ignition of the Minotaur V rocket that launched the LADEE spacecraft last Friday.

We’ve confirmed this image is in fact an actual photo taken by one of NASA’s remote cameras set up for the launch on September 6, 2013 from the Wallops/Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. Wallops spokesman Jeremy Eggers confirms the picture is legitimate and was not altered in any way.

However, we cannot say with any certainty that no frog was harmed in the making of this picture.

Why would a frog be hanging around a launchpad? The launchpad at the Wallops/Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport has a “pool” for the high-volume water deluge system that activates during launches to protect the pad from damage and for noise suppression, and likely there was a (formerly) damp, cool place that was a nice spot for a frog to hang out.

Also, NASA has noted that like Kennedy Space Center, the Wallops Island Spaceport sits among a wildlife refuge. The 3,000 acre Wallops Island National Wildlife Refuge is comprised mainly of salt marsh and woodlands and is a habitat for a variety of species, including frogs. NASA writes:

“But how is it possible for wildlife to peacefully coexist with space operations and what effects do rocket launches have on wildlife? NASA’s launch facilities, roads, and facilities take up a small percentage of the area. The rest of the area remains undeveloped and provides excellent habitat for wildlife. During launches, short term disturbance occurs in the immediate vicinity of the launch pads, but the disturbance is short-lived allowing space launches and a wildlife habitat to coexist.”

This is not the first animal oddity to be included in a launch. There are several images of birds flying away from space shuttle launches, and in fact, during the STS-114 launch, a turkey vulture ran into the shuttle’s orange fuel tank (see video below). There was the famous space bat from the STS-119 shuttle launch in 2009, and recently the SpaceX Grasshopper test launch startled a herd of cows:

Turkey Vulture meets space shuttle:

Thanks to Karl Hille from NASA Goddard for helping to track down and verify this image.

Update (9/12/13): NASA has now posted the picture on their Solar System Exploration website (I initially found it on imgur with no credit or source info).

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Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

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