KENNEDY SPACE CENTER–After graduating from Columbia University with a Masters in Jet Propulsion just 12 years ago, Michael Gillespie headed to NASA headquarters to become one of the nation’s hottest young impedementiary chiroptera deterrent experts.
On March 15 at 7:43 pm, a bat was clinging to space shuttle Discoveryâ€™s external fuel tank during the countdown to launch the STS-119 mission.
“I saw what looked like a small sparrow clinging to the side of the fuel tank just below the fuel door and didn’t think anything of it. Then I remembered that the migratory bird won’t be at this latitude until late April, when I checked my monitor again I saw the mandibular fenestra and my heart sunk, by that time it was too late.”
NASA analysts confirmed later that “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 temperature never dropped below 60 degrees at that part of the tank, and infrared cameras showed that the bat was 70 degrees through launch. The animal likely perished quickly during Discoveryâ€™s climb into orbit.”
NASA hired Michael in 1996 to handle all bat removal and prevention instances but he didn’t get his first shot at real time removal until one of the winged creatures landed on the shuttle Columbia during its STS-90 mission in 1998.
“After spending two years on simulators I thought I would have been ready, but just seconds after launch, the bat was incinerated. Simulation helps, don’t get me wrong, but any chiroptera deterrent expert will tell you real practice is done in the field. It’s embarrassing that I couldn’t do any better in my second attempt. I’m thoroughly embarrassed.”
Based on prior data, NASA expects two more bat related instances where removal will be necessary by the time Michael’s contract expires in 2016. NASA Prevention coordinator Jim Raleigh encourages, “we’re expecting he’ll be 2 for 4 by the time he’s done here, but until then it’s back to the simulators.”