It’s almost Halloween, and it’s almost the final launch of the space shuttle Discovery.
These two events have me thinking about Space Bat.
It’s been more than a year since Discovery lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center with a small bat clinging to its external fuel tank.
—Image courtesy NASA
The animal, according to an expert consulted by NASA, was a free tail bat that likely had a broken left wing and an unidentified problem with its right shoulder or wrist.
The injured bat dug into the foam of the fuel tank and refused to budge, even as the shuttle roared to life and started its climb into orbit.
By most accounts, Space Bat perished shortly after launch.
While this surely wasn’t the first time wildlife has been harmed in some way by a shuttle launch, the discovery and ultimate fate of this particular bat captured wide public attention.
The story of Space Bat spawned a memorial blog, several T-shirt designs, a YouTube tribute, pop songs, and countless media articles.
Now we are counting down the days until the shuttle that carried Space Bat to its doom takes its final flight.
Originally slated for November 1, Discovery’s launch has been postponed by at least a day due to a pair of gas leaks, putting the event on the calendar for next Tuesday.
Discovery, the oldest working shuttle in the fleet, has a rich and somewhat poignant legacy. This is the spaceship that carried the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit, was the first to fly after both the Challenger and Columbia tragedies, and was the first U.S. craft to carry a Russian and a seated Congressman into space [though not on the same flight].
When the shuttle returns from its upcoming 11-day mission, it’ll be retired, possibly for eventual display at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum. (Take an air and space quiz.)