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Batonaut – R.I.P

The shuttle Discovery docked safely and succesfully to the International Space Station last night… no damage was spotted on its underside when it performed its beautiful “backflip” before docking, and the two crews are now having a fine old time up in Earth orbit. This shuttle mission is going to see the ISS finally transformed into a real space station, with enough room, and more importantly enough power, to sustain a crew of 6 astronauts. We’re soon going to witness daring and dramatic spacewalks as astronauts attach and then unfurl the final pair of enormous solar array “wings”… but what is the world talking about most? What is the question on everyone’s lips?

“What happened to the bat?”

To re-cap, prior to the launch of Discovery at the weekend, a bat – thought at the time to be a fruit bat – was spotted clinging to the side of the external tank.

sts119_bat04

No-one was that concerned; NASA’s techs and mechs and most people watching launch preps on NASA TV were pretty sure it would fly away to safety when the shuttle started rattling and rumbling and coming to life in the minutes before blast-off. But things didn’t turn out that way. The bat was still clearly attached to the external tank as Discovery’s main engines fired, and still hadn’t detached itself and flown off as the SRBs ignited and Discovery began to haul herself off the pad. As the shuttle cleared the tower there was apparently a last fleeting glimpse of the bat, still clinging to the tank, then it vanished from view…

Afterwards, NASA officials stated that they were pretty sure the bat unfortunately hadn’t survived the launch, which upset a few onlookers who suggested that NASA should have made efforts to encourage the bat to fly off Discovery before it blasted off, but obviously it was a little late for that.

Well, today fresh light is shone on this  story in a fascinating piece on Universe Today, written by Ian O’Neil. The story explains that, for a start, the bat wasn’t a fruit bat, it was a free-tailed bat, and then goes on to explain that the reason why it hadn’t flown off as the shuttle came to life was because it probably had a broken wing and couldn’t fly anyway. Of course, that also means that it couldn’t fly off AT ALL, so it almost certainly met a rather grisly end as Discovery ascended. If fell off then it probably fell into one of the exhaust plumes thundering out of one of the SRBs or main engines, so would have… well, “pooof!” just about sums it up. If it somehow managed to cling on then it would have run out of air quite soon after launch as the shuttle lanced through the atmosphere. It certainly didn’t get to hitch a lift on the ET up into orbit and fall back down to Earth on it, riding it like Slim Pickins riding that nuke at the end of DR STRANGELOVE. Sadly, there was no tiny, batty squeak of “Yee-ha! Yeeeeeee ha!”…

So, a sad end to the story. But I can’t help thinking there’s a film in this. It’s not hard to imagine a meeting taking place right now in some back room at Disney, with a group of execs listening to a producer making a pitch…

“It’s the story of a simple bat who had a dream… to be the most famous bat EVER, and to fly higher than any bat had ever flown before…

“Ignoring his poor background, and his family’s tragic poverty, he drags himself out of the slums of bat town and stows away on a passing bus. He doesn’t care where it was going, as long as it is going somewhere, but as luck would have it the bus is heading for Florida, to the Kennedy Space Centre, taking a group of kids there to watch a space shuttle launch.

“Riding the bus our hero bat hears, through the roof, the excited conversation of the kids inside, all looking forward to the blast-off, and a flame of inspiration ignites inside his little bat chest – he would be the first bat into space!

“Reaching KSC he flies off the bus and heads for the launch pad – but a freak gust of wind knocks him off balance and sends him smashing into the external tank! Soon he is sliding and slipping down the tank, but somehow he manages to find a claw-hold, and there he clings on, bravely ignoring the pain from his broken wing, watching the launch preparations below…

When the launch comes Brian clings on for dear life, and as the shuttle shakes and shudders beneath him,  and clears the tower, he looks down at the world shrinking below, and up at the achingly blue sky above, and knows his dream is about to come true… he HAS flown higher than any bat had flown before…!

Then the world starts to go dark… and the bat begins to see the stars coming out…”

(cue rising orchestral music and weeping in the audience)

I’d love to see what Danny Boyle made of that…! 🙂

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