NASA May Be Prosecuted for Death of Brian the Bat

Multi-million dollar anti-bat mesh to be built around Ares rocket before launch.

Artist impression of the multi-million dollar anti-bat mesh to be added to the Constellation launch tower to prevent another Brian the Bat tragedy (NASA)
Artist impression of the multi-million dollar anti-bat mesh to be added to the Constellation launch tower to prevent another Brian the Bat tragedy (NASA)

NOTE: The message that follows was part of the Universe Today’s April Fools. I hope you had a giggle. However, the Brian Bat Foundation is real, and the little animal will be forever remembered

Well, I didn’t see this coming. On setting up the Brian Bat Foundation, I was sure NASA was not to blame for Brian’s sad demise. However, a Florida state official has started legal proceedings against the space agency.

According to Florida transport law, if a truck hits an endangered animal on state highways, the company is liable. As NASA is the state’s (actually, the world’s) largest “logistics company”, it too falls under the umbrella of this little known animal protection technicality.

NASA enjoys total freedom of the airspace above the state, however the agency must still abide by the laws of the state, no matter how insignificant the rules may appear when compared with the endeavors of US activities in space.” — Statement by the District Attorney’s Office, Florida

Brian the Discovery Bat holds onto the external tank moments before launch (NASA/Damaris B. Sarria)
Brian the Discovery Bat holds onto the external tank moments before launch (NASA/Damaris B. Sarria)

In response to the surprise legal action, NASA has already put together a solution that will rid the future Constellation launchpad of any more roosting bats like Brian. There are also plans in place to hinder access to the pad by smaller mammals and reptiles. According to a Cape Canaveral launch safety officer, a lot of time is spent on the gruesome task of removing the carcasses of rats, mice, gophers and rabbits. “If you thought roadkill was bad, imagine it roasted,” the officer added. The proposed Ares anti-bat mesh suddenly seems like a step in the right direction (pictured top).

So, it would appear Brian was only the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps the well publicised death of the little guy wont be in vain after all…

For more details on this breaking news story, check out “NASA Could be ‘Criminally Negligent’ Over Brian the Bat Death,” at the Universe Today.

What Have I Done? Worlds Media Adopt “Brian the Bat”!

The one day I’m on the road and can’t find an Internet connection was bound to be the very same day that the mother of all headline news breaks! “Brian the Bat” has been adopted by the mainstream media. Naturally, many websites and news sources picked up the tragic end of the little broken-winged free-tail bat that attempted to stow away on Space Shuttle Discovery’s STS-119 launch on Sunday. However, after pondering the little guy’s fate on Sunday, I did what I normally do when talking about a cute little furry animal… I named him.

For some reason that even I cannot explain, I tend to call animals “Brian” if I can’t think of another name, so it seemed only natural to call the Discovery bat, Brian. Now it seems the mainstream media has been paying attention to the random Twitterings about Brian.

I first got news from @Barstein that one of Norway’s largest papers (thank you Geir, for writing the article!), Dagbladet, had picked up the news, attributing with the naming (awesome). I have yet to translate and read the article fully, but I will do in a short while (Starbucks ‘net connection permitting). Dagbladet then followed up with “Her dør flaggermusa Brian” (“Brian the bat dies here”).

I was already overwhelmed that a major Norwegian paper would celebrate Brian’s final hours, but then I find out that the Daily Mail Online (one of the biggest UK newspapers) also reported about Brian the Bat!

Wow, all because I call small furry animals “Brian”. The power of Twitter and blogging appears to be rather strong! Although I would have liked Astroengine’s international media début to be focused on some extreme astrophysics theory, I am honoured that I might have played a small roll in personalizing this unfortunate Florida free-tailed bat, possibly boosting his memory the world over. He paid the ultimate price for our push to the stars, Brian should be remembered for that…

UPDATE (4pm): The largest UK tabloid newspaper, The Sun has just published an article called “It’s a giant leap for batkind” mentioning that the bat’s name was Brian. I was a little disappointed not to have a link to the original article at first, but I’m actually very glad, Astroengine might blow a fuse if I got a link from one of those sites!

Bat News Update: It Gets Worse

Brian the Discovery Bat holds onto the external tank moments before launch (NASA/Damaris B. Sarria)
Brian the Discovery Bat holds onto the external tank moments before launch (NASA/Damaris B. Sarria)

NASA has now given details about the circumstances of Brian’s demise. It turns out that Brian was in fact a free-tailed bat, and not a fruit bat as previously reported.

Also, NASA confirmed today’s news that Brian could be seen holding onto the orange external fuel tank as Space Shuttle Discovery cleared the tower during launch.

NASA was hopeful that Brian would fly away before Discovery even got close to launching, but it turns out that there was a reason for the bat’s stubbornness (and no, he wasn’t sleeping):

Based on images and video, a wildlife expert who provides support to the center said the small creature was a free tail bat that likely had a broken left wing and some problem with its right shoulder or wrist. The animal likely perished quickly during Discovery’s climb into orbit.

Now, that is sad. Brian was seen to be moving from time to time, and despite the deterrents put in place by NASA to frighten wildlife away from pre-launch shuttles (i.e. warning sirens), he refused to budge. This was probably because he was injured.

Naturally, this sad event has caused some anger, but I doubt NASA can be to blame for this unfortunate series of events. Bats have been seen to land on waiting shuttles on launch day in the past, only for them to fly away when the shuttle underwent fuelling, so ground control assumed Brian would simply fly away. However, they had no idea until after the fact that Brian was injured.

During shuttle launches (or any launches for that matter), local wildlife is bound to be impacted from time-to-time, and any creatures in the locale to the rockets perish in silence, with no media coverage. At least Brian went out in style. He will be remembered for a long time…

Ground Control To Brian Bat

To round off this captivating story, Karl Clodfelter (@DrKaz on Twitter) has adapted David Bowie’s “Ground Control To Major Tom”, very fitting. Here’s the original tune, so sing the following, starting about one minute in

This is Ground Control to Brian Bat
You’ve really chosen bad
And the websites want to know just why you’re there
Now it’s time to leave the fuel tank if you dare

This is Brian Bat to Ground Control
I’m getting ready to soar
And I’m flying in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today

For here
Am I gripping insulation
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do…

[guitar solo] clap-clap

Source: NASA via @Barstein

Bad News: Brian the Discovery Bat Was a Heavy Sleeper

Warning: You are about to read news of an upsetting nature. Brian didn’t make it, he was more of a thrill seeker than we gave him credit for…

Brian the Discovery Bat holds onto the external tank moments before launch (NASA/Damaris B. Sarria)
Brian the Discovery Bat holds onto the external tank moments before launch (NASA/Damaris B. Sarria)

If you have been following the news about the bat that caused a stir during Sunday’s Space Shuttle Discovery launch, we finally have closure on what actually happened. It is a sad day, Brian the Bat clung on to the shuttle’s exterior tank until lift-off…
Continue reading “Bad News: Brian the Discovery Bat Was a Heavy Sleeper”

Shuttle Discovery Launch Success!


At 19:47 EST, the STS-119 mission began with the successful launch of Space Shuttle Discovery from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The mission had been delayed by a week due to a hydrogen leak outside Discovery’s external fuel tank (compounding the extended delay caused by valve problems), but the fault was repaired, allowing NASA to perform a flawless launch today.

Space Shuttle Discovery's trail catches the sunset above Florida (Spaceflight Now UStream)
Space Shuttle Discovery's trail catches the sunset above Florida (Spaceflight Now UStream)

STS-119 will install the fourth and final set of solar arrays to the ISS. In May, the space station crew will grow to six, so additional solar power will be required. Interestingly, once completed, the station will become the second brightest object in the night sky.

Good luck Discovery!

For developing news on STS-119, check out the coverage on the Universe Today »

Bad Astronomy Scoops Time “25 Best Blogs 2009” Award

Bad Astronomy - One of Time's top 25 blogs of 2009
Bad Astronomy - One of Time's top 25 blogs of 2009

It is always fantastic to hear blog has been recognised by the mainstream media, but when a site from the space blogosphere is recognized by as one of 25 best blogs of 2009, that’s a big deal. Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy is officially up there with other blog monsters such as the Huffington Post, BoingBoing and Mashable (although few would argue against Bad Astronomy being the biggest space/astronomy/sceptical blogs out there).

So here is Phil, stepping up to the podium to accept his award:

They seemed to like the idea of a skeptical blog, which is probably what I like most about what they wrote. It’s very gratifying indeed to know that people out there appreciate a reality-based opinion. One of my overarching goals is to avoid dogma and bias and use only factual evidence on which to base my opinions. I know some people will disagree with this, but in general I think that’s because they don’t like the conclusions I reach. But I have found over the years that the hardest thing to accept as a skeptic is that the Universe doesn’t care what you think is true, it only cares about what is true.

There’s a big difference, sometimes.

–Phil Plait, Bad Astronomy (Feb. 17th, 2009)

Congratulations Phil! Your blend of healthy scepticism, astronomy, science and humour continues to inspire and motivate the rest of the science blogging world, this award recognizes Bad Astronomy as being one of the few “standard candles” cutting through the noise that is the Internet.

Visualizing the Iridium 33 and Cosmos 2251 Collision (Update: Video Added)

Less than a day after news of the unprecedented in-orbit collision between the active Iridium communications and defunct Russian satellites, the software company AGI has already carried out an analysis of the event. A detailed animation has been released depicting the velocity, angle of impact and statistical distribution of debris. Although the CGI is missing (I would have liked to have seen at least an explosion, shockwave and shards of twisted smoking metal. Come on guys, have a little fun!), it is a great visual aid for us to get a grip of what happened up there. To be honest I’m still blown away that this happened at all. There might be a lot of junk up there, but the statistical likelihood of this happening is still low.

You can also download the full-resolution AGI animation of the incident at their website…

Here are some visualizations of the impact in full 3D glory. All images courtesy of Analytical Graphics, Inc. (

A special thanks to Stefanie Claypoole at AGI for notifying me about this material.

It’s Not One-Way Traffic: Satellites Collide at 790 km

© David Clark
© David Clark

On Tuesday, at approximately 5pm GMT, two satellites made history. They became the first artificial satellites ever to collide accidentally in low-Earth orbit. The event happened between a defunct Russian satellite (Cosmos 2251, launched in 1993) and an active commercial Iridium communications satellite (Iridium 33, launched in 1997), destroying the pair. Now there’s a mess up there, pieces of debris threatening other satellites, possibly even the International Space Station
Continue reading “It’s Not One-Way Traffic: Satellites Collide at 790 km”

Mount Asama Erupts, Ash Rains Down on Tokyo

Mount Asama erupts early in the morning of February 2nd. (AP)
Mount Asama erupted early in the morning of February 2nd. (AP)

Only a few hours after the Japanese authorities issued an alert for the imminent eruption of Mount Asama, the volcano erupted at 1:51 am local time (Feb. 2nd), spewing thick smoke nearly 2 km high. Ash is falling on parts of Tokyo, 140 km away and chunks of rock have been ejected 1 km away from the volcano. There are no reports of damage or injury so far to local infrastructure or in the nation’s capital.

Japan’s Meteorological Agency has maintained the Level 3 warning (5 being the worst), preventing people from approaching the erupting Mount Asama, urging local residents to take caution. Should the warning level be raised to 4, residents will be advised to prepare for evacuation, and a Level 5 will enact an evacuation.

So far, the eruption appears to be limited, but Japan will be keeping a close eye on the situation for some time to come. Watch this space

For more, check out Mount Asama Eruption Imminent, Japan on High Alert

Source: AP via @LouisS

Mount Asama Eruption Imminent, Japan on High Alert (Update)

In 2004, smoke rises from Mount Asama in Tsumagoi, 140 km northwest of Tokyo (Reuters)
In 2004, smoke rises from Mount Asama in Tsumagoi, 140 km northwest of Tokyo (Reuters)

There will be growing tension in central Japan tonight. Mount Asama, an active complex volcano, is stirring and Japan’s Meteorological Agency has put the region on high alert. Geophysicists predict the volcano could explode within the next 48 hours, possibly powerful enough to blast rocks from its peak, causing damage up to four kilometres away.

Mount Asama is infamous for the 1783 eruption that devastated the region straddling the Gunma and Nagano prefectures, killing 1,500 people. Since then, Asama has remained active, with a significant eruption in 1972. However, 2004 did see the volcano explode, ejecting volcanic material up to 200 km away, but very little damage was caused.

Building seismic activity in the area suggested an imminent eruption, prompting the authorities to raise the threat level to a 3 out of 5. A Level 3 alert means that there could be significant damage caused to nearby non-residential areas and a no-go zone has been imposed. This is the first time the Meteorological Agency has used the volcanic warning levels since they were adopted in December 2007…
Continue reading “Mount Asama Eruption Imminent, Japan on High Alert (Update)”