At 4:10 a.m. EDT this morning an Atlas V rocket launched from Cape Canaveral carrying the U.S. Air Force’s Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF-3) communications satellite into orbit. The early morning launch may have gone unwatched except by the most determined space fans (like this guy) but it definitely didn’t go unnoticed by one particular creature: an armadillo, spooked out of hiding by the thundering Atlas V engines and caught on GoPro camera by Matthew Travis.
Watch the video above — or better yet, go to YouTube and watch in fullscreen HD — and pay attention to the foreground field around the 2-minute mark… you’ll see something running across the grass toward the exhaust cloud. Sure looks like an armadillo to me!* (And yes, they’re that quick!)
Armadillos are ubiquitous across much of the southern U.S. and it’s not unusual to spot one on the Space Coast — but they’re not normally included in launch videos!
This little guy joins the ranks of unlucky critters caught in the way of rocket launches, the most recent being an amphibian sent airborne by the launch of NASA’s LADEE mission from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Prior to that, a freetail bat was spotted clinging to the STS-119 external fuel tank during countdown on March 15, 2009 (and then there was the turkey vulture struck by a rising shuttle stack… ugh.)
The fates of those last animals most likely weren’t good, but who knows… maybe this armadillo had better luck. They’re pretty tough.
ALSO: the Antares/Cygnus launch at 10:58 a.m. EDT from Wallops today also had an animal visitor: a bald eagle, which had happened to be perched atop one of the four lightning towers. See photos here. (Tip of the feather to Tom Wolf.)
*Update 9/19: Some (like launch photographer Ben Cooper) have suggested that this might be a hog rather than an armadillo. Both can be found in the area and can run pretty fast, and considering its apparent size in a wide-angle lens that may be the case. Hard to tell exactly, but it’s certainly got a close-up view of the launch!