Monday, March 16, 2009

Astro-Bat Hitches a Ride on the Space Shuttle

As the space shuttle Discovery sat on the launch pad, counting down to launch on mission STS-119, engineers discovered an anomaly: a little brown bat was clinging to the rough foam on the exterior of the main tank! I received the following email from a NASA engineer on Sunday afternoon:
We are 1.5 hours from launch, and the problem we have right now is that there is a 0.03 lb. brown bat on the tank. Previous experience tells us that the bat will likely hang on during launch until after the ship clears the launch tower, but no damage on the orbiter is likely.

We are go for launch based on the fact that they are considering the bat a soft body.

No, I am not kidding.
Here is the proof in photos. Click to zoom in to full size, and look for the little dark spot on the orange tank.

Yes, definitely a bat!Ever wondered how a bat looks in infrared? Me neither, but here's a photo anyway.

Did the bat let go before launch? Apparently not!

Here is the conclusion of the story, according to another NASA engineer:
Although we remained hopeful he would wake up and fly away, the bat eventually became IPR 119V-0080 after the ICE team finished their walkdown. He did change the direction he was pointing from time to time throughout countdown but ultimately never flew away. IR imagery shows he was alive and not frozen like many would think. The surface of the ET foam is actually generally between 60-80 degrees F on a day like yesterday. SE&I performed a debris analysis on him and ultimately a LCC waiver to ICE-01 was written to accept the stowaway. Lift off imagery analysis confirmed that he held on until at least the vehicle cleared to tower before we lost sight of him.

And thus is the legend of the STS-119 Bat-ronaut….
Those NASA engineers are funny guys. All joking aside, launching into space is a dangerous business. I have several friends who work directly on the Orbiters, and they are some of the most careful, dedicated engineers I have ever met. No detail, even a 0.03 pound brown bat, is too small to ignore when the lives of astronauts are at risk.

No comments: