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Bat blasts off with shuttle

March 18, 2009 4:45:55 AM PDT
Officials say a bat caught a ride on the space shuttle during Sunday's lift off.NASA cameras photographed the bat clinging to space shuttle Discovery's external fuel tank during the countdown to launch. Analysts say the tracking photos for mission STS-119 showed the bat was still hanging on as the shuttle cleared the tower.

NASA sent the photos and video to wildlife experts who think it was a free tail bat. They say it likely had a broken left wing and some problem with its right shoulder or wrist.

Officials think the bat died as the shuttle headed into orbit.

The Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge lies inside the confines of the Kennedy Space Center. NASA set up warning sirens and other measures to keep birds and other animals away from spacecraft just before launch.

The inspection team that checks the shuttle and tank for ice buildup spotted the small bat and said they hoped it would wake up and fly off before the shuttle's engines ignited. But the bat stayed in place. Infrared cameras trained on the shuttle monitoring the outside of the fuel tank showed its temperature never dropped below 60°; and the bat's temperature was 70°.

A bat landed on the shuttle once before, prior to a Columbia launch in 1998. However, that bat flew off as the engines were lit.

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