The Sad Tale Of The Bat Who Went To Space

While human astronauts tend to get all the attention, lots of animals have been sent into space, too. In 1949, the Americans launched the first mammal into space: a rhesus monkey named Albert II, per In 1957, the Soviets sent a dog named Laika, which became the first animal to actually orbit the Earth. And in 1963, the French sent up the first (and only) space cat, Felicette. Being part of the space race generally didn't end well for these creatures — Albert II died in a crash-landing, Laika died in space, and Felicette survived, only to be euthanized two months later to have her brain studied.

All of these animals were sent into space intentionally, meaning that humans bear the full weight of responsibility for what happened to them. But on rare occasions, an animal will get sent into space accidentally, and that's exactly what happened on March 15, 2009. The animal in question? A poor, unsuspecting bat. As reports, this bat reached its dramatic end due to the space shuttle mission STS-119. One Sunday evening in March, the Discovery shuttle was sitting on the launchpad in Cape Canaveral, Florida, all set to carry its human passengers to the International Space Station. But before the launch, NASA officials spotted a free-tailed bat clinging to the orange fuel tank of the rocket. According to NASA, the agency has warning sirens to scare creatures away from its launch zones, so seeing this bat came as a surprise.

A bat clung to the Space Shuttle Discovery as it launched in 2009

Still, NASA officials decided not to take any action regarding the bat. According to, other bats had been spotted clinging to NASA's rockets during the STS-72 and STS-90 missions in the late 1990s, but these bats flew away just before or during launch. NASA figured that this new bat would behave the same way, but NASA was wrong. As the Discovery shuttle blasted into space, the bat continued to cling onto the rocket's fuel tank. Upon later inspection of photos and videos, one wildlife expert concluded that the bat probably had a broken left wing, which prevented it from flying away. Due to this injury, the bat was unwillingly sent for the ride of its life.

Now, it's fun to imagine that the bat made it all the way to space before suffocating or freezing. Can you imagine a bat looking down at the Earth, witnessing our blue marble in all its glory as it takes its last breaths? Unfortunately, the truth is probably less romantic. While the bat was still spotted clinging to the rocket during the first few moments of the flight, Universe Today says that not much later, the bat probably got shaken off the rocket and incinerated in the fiery exhaust below. Of course, as KnowYourMeme shows, that didn't stop the internet from creating plenty of fan art of the creature and immortalizing it with the nickname "Space Bat."