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”

Stunning Discovery Post-Launch Video

The plume of exhaust from Space Shuttle Discovery's launch on Sunday (©Adam Bojanowski)
The plume of exhaust from Space Shuttle Discovery's launch on Sunday creating a bright white cloud (©Adam Bojanowski)

Watch the time-lapse movie after Discovery’s launch »

I compiled the pictures I took into a time lapse movie. The blue cloud appears to grow where the shuttle main engines passed through a particular layer of atmosphere. The cloud grew in coverage and changed from bright white to electric blue as it expanded.” — Adam Bojanowski

Note: The expanding vivid white cloud appears after tiny droplets of water condense and then freeze around particles in Discovery’s exhaust after passing through a saturated layer of atmosphere. The ice in this new cloud preferentially scattered the blue light from the setting Sun (this is called Rayleigh scattering, the same mechanism for giving the sky its blue hue).

Source: SpaceWeather.com

Shuttle Discovery Launch Success!

discovery_launch

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 »

Hubble Malfunction Pushes Atlantis Service Mission into 2009

Hubble malfunction forces NASA to delay Atlantis launch until January (Hubblesite.org)
Hubble malfunction forces NASA to delay Atlantis launch until January (Hubblesite.org)

The fifth and final service mission to the Hubble Space Telescope is to be postponed until January as a mystery malfunction on Saturday crippled the observatory’s ability to transmit data to Earth. The STS-125 mission was set to launch in two weeks so essential upgrades to Hubble could be carried out, but Space Shuttle Atlantis will have to be stood down from her Cape Canaveral launch pad until NASA engineers can get to the root of the malfunction…
Continue reading “Hubble Malfunction Pushes Atlantis Service Mission into 2009”

Sibling Shuttles Atlantis and Endeavour: Different Launchpads, Same Time

A rare sight. Atlantis has been rolled out to its launchpad for the October 11th Hubble mission, whilst Endeavour will remain on standby in its capacity as the STS-400 rescue mission (NASA)
A rare sight. Atlantis has been rolled out to its launchpad for the October 11th Hubble mission, whilst Endeavour will remain on standby in its capacity as the STS-400 rescue mission (NASA)

This is a historic photo opportunity. Rarely do we see two shuttles rolled out onto different launchpads at the same time, but this scene has an extra poignancy to it: this is the last time two shuttles will be rolled out at the same time, ever.

All set for the fifth and final Hubble servicing mission on October 10th, Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-125) will carry the crew of seven to install two new instruments on the 18-year old orbiting telescope. They will also give the observatory an in-orbit overhaul; replacing the Fine Guidance Sensor and six gyroscopes to boost the operational lifespan of Hubble till 2013.

However, due to the unusual orbit of Hubble, Atlantis must have a back-up plan that doesn’t include the International Space Station. The October mission will call up a standby rescue mission called STS-400 – in this case Endeavour – that will be readied for launch in preparation for the unlikely event of an emergency during the STS-125 Hubble repair…
Continue reading “Sibling Shuttles Atlantis and Endeavour: Different Launchpads, Same Time”

An Intimate View From the Space Shuttle Garage

"So what do you do?" "Oh, I have the boring job attaching rocket engines to the Shuttle..." (NASA/Kim Shiflett)
"So what do you do?" "Oh, I'm just the Shuttle rocket engine crane operator..." (NASA/Kim Shiflett)

If you thought that Shuttle launches were easy, think again. Preparing each Shuttle launch is a laborious task, taking several months and thousands of NASA employees. Pictured above is one of Atlantis’ Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs) being installed back on June 11th at Kennedy Space Center’s Orbiter Processing Facility bay 1, and I think this image epitomizes what space flight is all about. Rocket science is complex, we know that, but when I see just how big these things are, I gain a better respect for how far we have come. Best thing is, this is an image of a 23 year old space vehicle, just imagine what the future Ares V will look like…
Continue reading “An Intimate View From the Space Shuttle Garage”

The Shuttle Could Fly Beyond 2010

Could the Shuttle be revived until 2015? (NASA)
Could the Shuttle be revived until 2015? (NASA)

Whether you are surprised by this news or not, it is a big development for the future of NASA. An internal email within the space agency has instructed staff to begin preliminary planning for a feasibility study into extending the life of the Space Shuttle fleet until 2015. This isn’t a one year extension, this isn’t just one extra flight, this is a full five year extension beyond the scheduled decommissioning date set by NASA.

This email, although downplayed by NASA sources, appears to show a U-turn in the political climate behind the agency’s closed doors. So what prompted the decision to commence a feasibility study? Could the Shuttle be safely flown after 2010?
Continue reading “The Shuttle Could Fly Beyond 2010”