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

[/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:, NASA,

75 Responses

  1. Ian O'Neill says:

    @Mr Bill: I’m assuming he damaged it when landing on the tank. Unless it was one of those sporting injuries he picked up in flight, landed there for a rest, got cramp and couldn’t move…

    In short, I have no clue but if a bat expert says he’s got an injured wing (leg?), I reckon he might have picked it up on landing. Poor bugger.

    Cheers, Ian

  2. Ian O'Neill says:

    @Michael: Ouch, that would be one hell of a depressing kids movie!

    “Brian lands on the shuttle, wanting to be the first bat in space. Breaks his wing. Hangs off the external tank all day with no sign of help. He has second thoughts, but he can’t do anything about it and the shuttle launches. Brian is history.”

    I really hope there’s a decent twist in this story! I can see the crying children running out of the movie theatre now… 😉

    Cheers, Ian 🙂

    PS. How the hell I missed the golden opportunity to drop in a Monty Python-esque title I’ll never know! I sooo need to do a follow-up post with your suggestion: “The Life (and Death) of Brian”

  3. Yael Dragwyla says:

    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.

  4. ND says:

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

  5. Mr Bill says:

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

  6. Salacious B. Crumb says:

    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.

  7. Salacious B. Crumb says:

    “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)

  8. Arik Rice says:

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

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

  10. Carl Rollberg says:

    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.

  11. ND says:

    They should have named the bat Eric.

    Eric the fruit bat.

  12. Carl Rollberg says:

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

  13. CasablancaMike says:

    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!

  14. Jennifer says:

    why does the surface of the tank look so rough?

  15. Hungry says:

    Anyone for roasted bat?

  16. D-wreck says:

    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.

  17. Maugrim says:

    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.

  18. Calvero says:

    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.

  19. Stu says:

    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 space! Reaching KSC he flew off the bus and headed for the launch pad – but a freak gust of wind knocked him off balance and sent him smashing into the external tank! Soon he was sliding and slipping down the tank, but somehow he managed to find a claw-hold, and there he clung on, bravely ignoring the pain from his broken wing, watching the launch preparations below… when the launch came Brian clung on for dear life, and as the shuttle shook and shuddered beneath him and cleared the tower he looked down at the world shrinking below, and up at the achingly blue sky above, and knew his dream was about to come true… he HAD flown higher than any bat had flown before…

    (cue inspiring uplifting music… roll titles…)


  20. Vino says:

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

  21. Maya says:

    Brian Livingston Bat.

  22. Jens says:

    This was no normal bat, this was an undead vampire who’ll look for fresh blood on the ISS. Things could turn horrible out there! 😉

  23. Bret says:

    Hours of build up.
    A senseless death.
    Screaming, crying children.

    Walt Disney and NASA present:
    “The Bat to Terabithia”


  24. Rey says:

    No, the bat’s name is WALL-E 😀

  25. Uwe says:

    It’s amazing how much attention this gets when you consider how many animals (literally millions) get killed by our cars every year!

  26. Mr.Obvious says:

    Sally B,
    A bat isn’t going to be scared of ultrasonic sounds… it uses them its entire life. Might as well say it would get scared of its own wing.

    Other than pitch, it doesn’t distinguish the ultrasonic frequencies any differently than the frequencies both humans and bats can hear. Not to mention, it isn’t exactly silent around a launch pad just prior to launch.

    …and then; read the article. If it was injured, it wouldn’t have tried flying away short of being forced off.

  27. xaos says:


    “and then, just as it seemed he would be triumphant and reach space, he learned space is actually a vacuum and he asphyxiated. The end.”

  28. Anthony says:

    It all goes to show you can’t be too careful.

  29. LLDIAZ says:

    What if he morphed into some space bat and came back w/ laser eyes and started taking revenge for all the injustices brought on bat kind every where in the world LOL

  30. tony says:

    Well, if your gonna be road kill, might as well be exceptional road kill!

  31. Alan Ledbury says:

    If this bat really had a broken wing, how did it get onto the tank ???

    To the Bat-ladder ???


  32. huygens says:

    Good bye little bat, and sorry you have to have rude comments from Internet trolls as your eulogy.

  33. DaveH says:

    My guess is the bat broke its wing by flying into the tank, then grabbed on to try to figure out what to do next. Bats don’t have the best eyesight.

  34. Dave says:

    Since we know that the controller who pushed the final ignition switch had “Dent, A” on his namebadge, I propose that we name the bat “Agrajag”.

  35. Abhivansh says:

    That’s one expensive Bat-Mobile

  36. Peter says:

    Dave, that was the most obtuse thing I’ve ever heard. Does anyone else get that?

  37. AlakiaQueeone says:

    R.I.P. Brian 🙁

  38. Marco says:

    He was just trying to get to Mars so he could live with the mini-Bigfoots. There, he would not be known as the Tiny Fruit Bat, but rather as the Giant Fruit Bat.

  39. Bosco says:

    Sniff, sniff, I think I’m going to cry. The dangerous space program MUST stop now!

  40. Batman says:

    DA-NA-NA-NA-NA-NA-NA-NA-NA-NA-NA-NA Spacebat! With his sidekick, FireTank!

  41. Ron says:

    I’m truly outraged that NASA didn’t scrub the launch to save this bat. I am withdrawing my financial support for the organization, and will instead devote my resources toward deep sea exploration to spite space exploration.

  42. OilIsMastery says:

    It is obvious this bat proves that gravity does not exist.

    “For as the eyes of bats are to the blaze of day, so is the reason in our soul to the things which are by nature most evident of all.”

  43. marcellus says:

    I don’t give a bat’s ass.

  44. Bill L. says:

    This shuttle’s mission patch should definitely have a bat added to it.

  45. Smai says:

    Countdown until PETA organizes a full-fledged attack against all future NASA missions….

  46. Tareece says:

    LOL…… This one bat will do more to end NASA (or make so many new enviro-nazi regulations as to make space flight inaccessable) than any human disaster of the past 50 yrs has….

    Unbelieveable…. As much as I like animals, if the bat had a broken wing, it was surely doomed in the wild anyways. ohhh thats right, if there wasn’t a gigantic orange thing for it to fly into and thus break its wing, then it would have left a healthy life…

    Forget what NASA has already done for the enviroment around the Cape…It is by far more lush and populated than most of the rest of the space coast…

    But PETA won’t care….

    I got one— People for the Eating of Tasty Animals…. Yeah, I be likin’ that one…

  47. Skip says:

    Little guy ended up goin like a Bat-outta-Hell !

  48. Phill says:

    First, his wing was obviously functional enough to allow him to fly up to his perch on the booster; I’m sure it was functional enough to let him flutter back down, if he had the chance. If the bat can flit, you must acquit! (reasonable doubt and all that.) I prefer to think that Brian survived and is hanging around at the cave with his buddies saying: “So no sh*t, there I was!”

    Twinkle Twinkle
    Little Bat
    How I wonder
    Where you’re at?

  49. Civisi says:

    No one complains about all the mosquitoes and insects that are hit and burned up as the shuttle launches.

  50. PoLaNd says:

    this is not a regular Bat, this is Batman !!!

  51. Rock says:

    The bat is not the problem… nor, the idiots that worship animals… The real problem is: “Why keep spending billions and trillions of dollars on an endless and fruitless work in space.”

    There is no other life in the areas of space that we can travel. You must go beyond the heaven we see, to the where the Creator is – to find life.

    And every human that has lived on this planet, in all of history, will meet that Creator after their life here is finished.

    Searching for life in between here and there is a waste of time and money.

    Everyone will meet THE LORD OF LORDS AND KING OF KINGS – THE LORD JESUS CHRIST when they get there… and will bow their knees to HIM.

    Then everyone will finally find “INTELLIGENT LIFE” out there beyond what we see.

  52. Olaf says:

    Rock, wake up man!
    Your GPS and sattelite radio and sattelite TV is working because of this space exploration!

    If you don’t like space exploration, then please return your GPS, sattelite TV reciever and sattelite radio reciever. Don’t watch any weather prediction ever again and remove Google Earth from your computer.

    Your god will surely give you the weather predictions and storm warnings needed through your prayers!

  53. Slashdot Haiku Thief says:

    Little bat, clinging
    I can haz space travel, please?
    HOLY SHIT! Blast Off!

  54. Davidlpf says:

    One small step for bat
    one giant leap for batkind.

  55. Jim says:

    Sorry, just had to make that one. 🙂

  56. Jim says:

    Actually, they should update the mission patch. Here is a suggestion I sent to NASA


  57. Luke Garratt says:

    # Dave Says:
    March 18th, 2009 at 7:38 am

    Since we know that the controller who pushed the final ignition switch had “Dent, A” on his namebadge, I propose that we name the bat “Agrajag”.
    # Peter Says:
    March 18th, 2009 at 8:50 am

    Dave, that was the most obtuse thing I’ve ever heard. Does anyone else get that?

    Read Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy. Not only are they the greatest books in the world, you will understand the reference.

  58. KG6YRA says:


  59. Bojan says:

    Rock – What if I don’t beleive in your God, am I still going to get to meet him ?

  60. anomymouse says:

    The tiles should be bat traps,NASA can make money by selling ‘freeze dried bats’ for 100 euros each. Limit of 10000 bats per trip

  61. Mr Bill says:


    God and science do mix. Why do you think God gave us the intelligence to build machines to go into space? There are other intelligences out there and God wants us to use our God given brains to go out and find them.

  62. U.S. Citizen says:

    This is going to be really funny if the shuttle stage comes back with a bat cryo-frozen to the tank side, to thaw out and fly away. And I don’t know about his name and all, but I think when It comes to getting your butt screwed, I think the bat is taking the name “free tailed” a little to far now. hahaha

  63. U.S. Citizen says:

    Batmobile, Bat-bike, Bat plane, Bat-boat, now we have the the Bat-shuttle. Perhaps Brian the bat was trying to tell us something. Moving on to the latest news, earlier last night, a mexican bat was seen trying to hi-jack the hub caps off the space shuttle, However the Mexican bats plans had been foiled due to the shuttle owner leaving in a hurry while listoning to the melody “Low, Low, Rider”. It was said by many that the mexican bat was angery for the non payment of it federal gold marijuana and was jacking the shuttle as collateral untill payments with food stamps was paid in full. hahaha

  64. U.S. Citizen says:

    I guess Rock don’t read the bible much. It clearly states that “we are not to worry about our breathern on the distant lights in the night sky”. I wonder why it said that? I don’t know where bullwinkles’ friend got His info, but I don’t think it came from the bible. Science and religion does work together. Just don’t think of God like the genie in aladdin, but more like mother nature of whom takes it’s own sweet time to do something like evolve man or a flower from the atoms of the dust into complex carbon based life with the energy housed in the fabric of matter’ vibration and quantum threads..

  65. Eric Near Buffalo says:

    I really don’t feel like skimming thru all of the comments to make sure, but I’m almost willing to bet that someone just had to bring up religion with this topic. Here’s a statement to end all shit flinging and bickering: “God” created the Universe, the Milky Way Galaxy, the Solar System, all forms of life that have ever walked the Earth, ourselves and our animal counterparts and finally our ability to think and theorize science.

    I grew up a God fearing person, but now I don’t fear the idea of God’s wrath for non-believers; or what conservative wacko religious types would deem “non-believers”.

    Nobody’s perfect and I’d bet you there’s twice as many conservative religious types with skeletons in their closets than supposed non-believers.

    People in science have their own set of beliefs whether it be a natural creation or creation by a supreme being; possibly a mix of the two. There’s no reason why it should turn into “God will smite you if you don’t fear him” or “You’re insane if you think this all came from spontaneous occurances.”

  66. U.S. Citizen says:

    @ Eric, ya forgot one though, about how the christians will save the non believers, even if they have to kill them to save their sinfull souls. Remember?

  67. Stone Cold Steve Austin says:


  68. Minty says:

    I wish I could’ve been the first bat into space. Someone else always has the best ideas before me. First Google, now this.

  69. Eric Near Buffalo says:

    @ US Citizen…

    Crap! Forgot about that one!!

    Don’t forget the televangelists either. “Come to my show for a ‘nominal fee’ to be enlightened with the power of God and Jesus Christ.” Right. The only things being enlightened by that greedy prick’s show are the wallets and purses of the ‘sheeple’ getting roped into their garbage.

  70. dco says:

    How did the bat fly there in the first place if its wing was broken?

  71. U.S. Citizen says:

    @ Eric

    Yea, And also they want you to send your money to the Lord, But they give ya THEIR address, hahaha

  72. Eric Near Buffalo says:

    @ US Citizen

    Ha! Yes!

    Then they take that money and funnel it into the pocket of a pimp on the crappy side of town or into the bank account of a child porn site.

  73. S.E.Cycloid says:

    I would just like to complain about all the mosquitoes and insects that are hit and burned up as the shuttle launches. Thanks for listening.

  74. Eric Near Buffalo says:

    @ S.E. Cycloid

    Everyone’s missing the point here. All that ammonia perclorate burned before it has a chance at life!

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