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Space Bat is the nickname given to a free-tailed bat that was seen clinging to an external tank during the launch of the STS-119 space shuttle mission flown by NASA’s Discovery in March of 2009.
On March 15th, 2009, a bat was seen clinging to the external tank of NASA’s Space Shuttle Discovery during the launch countdown for mission STS-119. Based on images and videos from the site, a wildlife expert at the John F. Kennedy Space Center speculated that the creature had a broken wing and was unable to move from its resting place. Following the sighting, NASA performed a risk assessment and determined that the shuttle could safely fly with the bat in tow. According to the space agency, the flying mammal likely perished during the shuttle’s ascent into orbit.
Shortly before the shuttle’s launch on March 15th, 2009, the science blog Space.com published a post titled “Bat Attempts to Stow Away on Space Shuttle”, reporting that NASA employees believed the bat posed no threat to the shuttle’s launch. Following the launch of the mission that same day, the space blog Astro Engine published a post titled “In Memory of Brian, the Discovery Bat”, which referred to the bat as “Brian” and revealed that experts speculated the creature was likely incinerated during launch. On Match 16th, 2009, The Independent published an article titled “Lost in Space? Bat Hitches Ride on Shuttle”, mistakenly reporting that the animal was a fruit bat. On the following day, the space blog Universe Today published a post titled “The Discovery Bat’s Fate is Confirmed”, which included an infrared photograph showing the bat’s heat signature (shown below, left) and a photograph showing the bat clinging to the shuttle during launch (shown below, right).
On March 18th, the tech news blog Gizmodo published an article titled “Shuttle-Riding Bat Dies The Most Glorious Death Imaginable.” On the same day, CNN published an article titled “Space Shuttle Discovery Blasts Off With Bat Stowaway”, reporting that a bat had been previously sighted during a shuttle launch in 1998. On March 19th, the tech news blog Geekologie published a post titled “Aww: Injured Bat Blasts Off For Outerspace”, identifying the flying mammal as a free-tailed Chiroptera bat. On March 23rd, the tech news blog Tech Crunch published a post titled “‘Space Bat’ Clung to Space Shuttle Discovery Fuel Tank During Liftoff, Still Can’t Be Found”, reporting that additional pictures of the bat were unavailable due to the shuttle’s tank camera breaking during liftoff.
Shortly after the bat was sighted on March 15th, 2009, the @DiscoveryBat Twitter account was created, featuring satirical tweets written from the perspective of the stowaway bat.
— DiscoveryBat’s ghost (@DiscoveryBat) March 15, 2009
Following the successful launch of the shuttle and presumable death of the flying mammal, YouTubers began uploading tribute videos in honor of the bat.
Several page worth of fan art inspired by the event can be found on the website DeviantArt.