The injured long-tailed bat clings onto Discovery's external fuel tank (NASA)

The Discovery Bat’s Fate is Confirmed

Article Updated: 24 Dec , 2015

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[/caption]On Sunday, Space Shuttle Discovery lit up the Florida evening skies, cutting through a magnificent sunset. The STS-119 mission is set to assemble the final stages of the International Space Station’s solar array, making the outpost the second brightest object in the night sky (after the Moon). Today, Discovery successfully docked with the space station and all is set for the upcoming spacewalks.

However, space launch successes to one side, there has been an undercurrent of concern captivating the world. On Sunday, the shuttle had a stowaway attached to the external fuel tank, and although NASA was sure the little animal wouldn’t be a debris risk, the bat remained attached to the shuttle, apparently stuck in place. New details have now emerged about why the bat didn’t fly away before Discovery launched…

Brian the Bat was clearly not frozen in this IR image shortly before launch (NASA)

Brian the Bat was clearly not frozen in this IR image shortly before launch (NASA)

On Sunday, there was some chat about the a bat roosting on the orange external fuel tank of the space shuttle. This isn’t such a strange occurrence, this is Florida after all, there is plenty of wildlife around Cape Canaveral, animals are bound to feature in shuttle launches every now and again. A bat has even roosted on the Shuttle before (STS-72 in 1996), only to fly away shortly before launch. Therefore, the bat discovered on Sunday morning was met with some mild curiosity and NASA was certain it would fly away before countdown.

However, during coverage of the shuttle launch, it became clear the bat was still roosting and some theories pointed at the possibility that the creature had become frozen to the tank as the cryogenic hydrogen and oxygen fuel was pumped into the external tank. However, the area where Brian was located (yes, I felt compelled to name him when chatting on Twitter about the situation), was not expected to drop below freezing. On watching Discovery blast off, the assumption was that Brian (then thought to be a fruit bat, he was in fact a Free-tailed bat) had long gone. How wrong we were.

This morning, images of Discovery’s launch surfaced and it would appear the bat remained attached to the fuel tank even when the shuttle passed the height of the launch tower. The bat was in it for the duration, he seemed determined to be the first bat in space!

The shuttle climbs, bat still holding on (NASA)

The shuttle climbs, bat still holding on (NASA)

So what happened? If the bat wasn’t frozen to the shuttle, why would he remain stuck on the external fuel tank? Surely he should have flown away when the shuttle powered up and vibrated before lift off? According to a NASA press release, the bat may have had little choice but to cling onto the shuttle. When the images were examined by a wildlife specialist, the conclusion was the bat may have had a broken wing, forcing him to hold on tight. Unfortunately, holding onto the fuel tank spelled certain doom; it is doubtful he would have been able to remain attached as the violent shaking and g-forces took hold. Although he made it as high as the launch tower, it is likely the bat dropped off and died in the searing 1400°C exhaust of the throttling boosters.

A sad reminder that small animals can be hurt and killed on the ground as we push into space. However, NASA goes through great effort to ensure there is minimal impact on birds and other animals during launches, and NASA can’t be blamed for the death of this one bat. At the end of the day, previous experience suggested the bat would simply fly away, unfortunately in this case, a broken wing was the bat’s downfall.

Sources: Space.com, NASA, Astroengine.com


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Polaris93
Member
March 17, 2009 11:05 PM

Let us remember
All small and broken things
Whose fate is sealed
By having crossed our path,
Nothing else.
Whatever Gods love bats,
May They take this one to Their breast,
And give it life again
Upon a world of another star,
With an agreeable spouse
And lots of children.

ND
Guest
ND
March 17, 2009 8:48 PM

Poor Brian. He probably died from fright from the sound of the launch itself.

Mr Bill
Guest
Mr Bill
March 17, 2009 9:05 PM

If he had a broken wing, how did he fly up to the fuel tank in the first place?

Salacious B. Crumb
Guest
Salacious B. Crumb
March 17, 2009 9:08 PM

Sounds like next time it might be an idea to make some loud ultrasonic outbursts around the launch site, and frighten all bats from approaching the launch vehicle. As bats use sonar and echoes to catch their prey Would cost must, it would be harmless, and it would prevent future outcomes like these.
Seeing no coverup in the story is far more impressive than often practice of just sweeping it under the carpet. Pity this doesn’t apply in other matters to do with government or business, who are more often than not are prepared to avoid or dismiss the usual problems that might be viewed as negative.

Salacious B. Crumb
Guest
Salacious B. Crumb
March 17, 2009 9:11 PM

“As bats use sonar and echoes to catch their prey. Would cost must, it would be harmless, and it would prevent future outcomes like these.”
Should read
“As bats use sonar and echoes to catch their prey, ultrasonics would be useful to scare them away. It would not cost much, it would be harmless, and it would prevent future outcomes like these.”
Apologies. (missed a line)

Arik Rice
Guest
March 17, 2009 9:16 PM

Poor bat. All he wanted to do was go into space!

Michael Paine
Guest
March 17, 2009 9:16 PM

The Life (and death) of Brian! There is a theme for a kids movie.

Carl Rollberg
Guest
Carl Rollberg
March 18, 2009 4:50 AM

Of course there would be bats around the Shuttle during Spring launches. It’s baseball time. Go White Sox and Go NASA! Both come home safe according to God’s will. Da poor bat, sniff, sniff.

ND
Guest
ND
March 17, 2009 9:51 PM

They should have named the bat Eric.

Eric the fruit bat.

Carl Rollberg
Guest
Carl Rollberg
March 18, 2009 4:52 AM

A footnote to my last comment…The bat’s name should be Sir Tanksalot!

CasablancaMike
Guest
CasablancaMike
March 17, 2009 11:02 PM

If it had broken its wing, it would have been just a matter of time before the poor thing would have starved to death. So, we bid thee, Freddy the Free-tailed bat, fare-thee-well!

jbuz
Member
jbuz
March 17, 2009 11:44 PM

why does the surface of the tank look so rough?

Hungry
Guest
Hungry
March 17, 2009 11:53 PM

Anyone for roasted bat?

D-wreck
Guest
D-wreck
March 18, 2009 12:56 AM

Natural selection at its best. Bats that think it is a bad idea to land on the external fuel tank of space shuttles live. Bats that think it is a good idea to land on the external fuel tank of space shuttles die.

Maugrim
Guest
Maugrim
March 18, 2009 1:10 AM

Jennifer – because it is rough. The orange stuff is spray-on foam insulation.

They painted it white for the first couple of launches too, but then discovered it wasn’t really needed and the paint was adding a significant amount to the mass, so they dropped that practice.

Calvero
Guest
Calvero
March 18, 2009 1:17 AM

Maybe Brian the Bat was trying to get to Asteroid 2009 FH to find some outer space adventure? They never found his body. I think it would make a great kids story! Someone definitely should write that story.

mars_stu
Member
March 18, 2009 1:24 AM
How long ’til Disney make a film of this, telling the tale of Brian’s inspiring struggle? A simple bat who had a dream… to be the most famous bat EVER, and to fly higher than any bat had ever flown before… Ignoring his poor background, and his family’s poverty, he dragged himself out of the slums of bat town and caught a ride to KSC on the roof of a passing school bus, going to see a launch. Riding the bus he heard, through the roof, the excited conversation of the kids inside, all looking forward to the blast-off, and a flame of inspiration ignited inside his little bat chest – he would be the first bat into… Read more »
vino
Member
vino
March 18, 2009 1:39 AM

I just learned that Astronomers can never lack for imagination!! grin

wpDiscuz