The unlucky beasts that were too close to NASA's rocket launches

Despite the fact that all NASA's launch sites are natural paradises thanks to the agency's conservationists efforts, sometimes accidents happen when frogs, bats, pelicans or turkey vultures cross the path of rockets as they soar into space. Here are some sad examples.

Of course, there were other lucky ones who survive. In fact, the norm is that nothing ever happens and animals thrive around these sites, with many protected species enjoying their life alongside America's mighty fire-breathing metal birds.


Take a look at this fascinating story told by Richard Shipp to Gizmodo's readers:

My company designed the launch pad for the latest Wallops Island launch. The situation with field mice is strange. They would not exist without the launch taking place. When a vehicle launches, they flee from where they are burrowed and then mate before returning. If they didn't flee and mate, the population would die off. This has happened in other areas.

A fascinating fact indeed.

A Brief History of Animals and Rocket Launches Not Getting Along

By now you've no doubt already shed a tear for Spacetoad, who met his fiery, glorious end during a NASA rocket launch earlier this week. But did you know that he's just the latest in a long line of animals who have run afoul of our nation's space program?

What follows is a look at the unfortunate fauna who have found themselves a little too close to a launchpad. It's the most fitting tribute to a noble Spacetoad we could think of.

The frog that got too close to a NASA launch

Photo: NASA/Wallops/Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport via Universe Today

The herd of cows terrified by the SpaceX Grasshopper.

Spacebat, who clung nobly to Space Shuttle Discovery’s external fuel tank during the countdown to launch the STS-119 mission in 2009.

Photo: NASA

Not strictly speaking an animal, but bird poop made it to space in 2006.


A turkey vulture flew right into Space Shuttle Discovery's flight path on July 26, 2005.

AP photo of the turkey vulture incident, just before impact.

Photo: Terry Renna/AP

A giant spider attacked Space Shuttle Atlantis at the end of 2007.

A pair of Northern Flicker woodpeckers tried to burrow a nesting hole in the spray-on foam insulation (SOFI) of the shuttle External Tank (ET) in 1995.

It's not always tragic. Since the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge coexists inside Kennedy Space Center, a huge number of animals—mostly birds and alligators—live near the launch pads. The NASA has a number of measures available, including warning sirens, to deter birds and other creatures from getting too close to spacecrafts. The launch team also uses radar to watch for birds before a liftoff. Which means that sometimes, instead of collisions, you get majestic imagery like the following.

A flock of (probably) cormorants seem to surround the Shuttle Atlantis against a clear blue sky in 2002.

Photo: NASA

A lonesome bird—that black spot in the plume on the right side of the photo—gets impressively close to the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1994.

Photo: NASA

A dragonfly hangs out at the edge of the lagoon near Space Shuttle Atlantis in 2011.

Photo: NASA/Bill Ingalls

An indifferent alligator swims past a dead tree at the Banana Creek viewing stand at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral in 2006. Behind it, Space Shuttle Atlantis.

Photo: Terry Renna/AP

A flock of bird provides the foreground to this gorgeous shot of the 363-feet tall Apollo 12 rocket clearing the tower at Pad A, Launch Complex 39, Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in 1969.

Photo: NASA

Her majesty and a flock of birds. Apollo 9, the second manned Saturn V mission was launched from Pad A, Launch Complex 39, Kennedy Space Center (KSC) at 11 a.m. (EST), March 3, 1969.

Photo: NASA

Top photo: the Space Shuttle Discovery and its seven-member STS-120 crew head toward Earth-orbit (23 Oct. 2007) by NASA