Space Shuttle Discovery had an extra crew member aboard their launch on Wednesday evening. According to images taken during liftoff, there was a bat clingling to one of the external fuel tanks during the entire countdown and even held on well after the 7:34 p.m. launch.
Because Kennedy Space Center is so close to the Merritt Island Refuge, a national wildlife preserve consisting of more than 140,000 acres, the Space Center has equipped all of the launch pads with warning sirens to scare off any unwanted animals namely birds. However, despite these precautions the bat still made his way onto the pad and attached himself to the Discovery.
Launch controllers spotted the bat after it had clawed onto the foam of the external tank as Discovery stood at Launch Pad 39A. And the final inspection team that surveys the outside of the shuttle and tank for signs of ice buildup observed the small bat, hoping it would wake up and fly away before the shuttle engines ignited.
But a wildlife expert who works with the Space Center stated that the little guy, who was identified as a free tail bat, the animal likely perished quickly during Discovery’s climb into orbit. And that the reason why the bat held on so long was that it was probably injured with a broken left wing and some problem with its right shoulder or wrist.
The next planned shuttle launch which will be from Florida’s Space Coast and is scheduled for May.