A Giant Step for Bat-Kind Fails
Bats, the only mammals that have evolved adaptations to shun gravity and take to the air, are incredibly unique and unparalleled throughout the history of mammalian evolution. While the rest of us were scurrying along the ground or clinging to tree limbs, they were flapping and soaring above our heads, experiencing the world in ways we can’t even dream of.
Then, along came technology, and now humans soar through the air on a daily basis. Most people don’t even hold a sense of wonder for flight anymore. You get settled into your airplane seat, try to avoid being breathed upon by the person in the next seat, and pull down the shade to reduce the glare on your laptop screen.
Space flight, however, still gets us excited. Shuttle launches are one of the few scientific achievements that are regularly featured in the media. Humans have now engineered a way to not only take to the air, but to escape the air (as we know it) into the great beyond?
What is a bat to do? Let these filthy primates surpass the altitudinal experiences without any of the adaptations that it took chiropterans tens of millions of years to evolve? Of course not.
Thus, when the space shuttle Discovery launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Tuesday, it carried an unexpected stowaway: a bat clinging to the external fuel tank. The picture provided by NASA shows what is obviously a Tadarida brasiliensis, perched and ready for a ride.
Apparently this is not the first time NASA has had bats on a shuttle. The launch pad is in close proximity to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, although attempts are made to frighten animals away from the launch site. There was a siting of a bat on the shuttle during a launch in 1998, but it flew away when the engines were started.
The one sighted on Tuesday was apparently injured, however (according to an unnamed expert that reviewed video of the launch), however, and stayed on the tank as the engines ignited and the shuttle took off. The report concludes:
“The crew of the Discovery safely docked at the International Space Station on Tuesday. It was unclear whether its stowaway was still clinging to the shuttle.”