Lost in space? Bat hitches ride on shuttle

Seven astronauts were heading to the international space station aboard space shuttle Discovery today, while Nasa debated whether the orbiting outpost will need to move aside to dodge a piece of space junk.

There was one probable victim of yesterday's launch: a fruit bat found hiding next to a fuel tank. Although its fate is unknown, scientists believe it probably perished.

The launch director Mike Leinbach told a a post-launch news conference: "We're characterizing him as unexpected debris and he's probably still unexpected debris somewhere."

The launch followed five delays that caused Discovery's mission to be shortened by a day and cancelled a planned spacewalk.

And more substantial debris is keeping the control centre occupied: Space station astronauts had a close call last week with a piece of orbiting junk that passed nearby, and Nasa said today that a piece of a Russian satellite could come within about half a mile (8 kilometers) of the station early tomorrow.

Nasa will decide later today whether to fire the space station's engines to nudge the complex out of the path of the debris.

The three space station residents had to move into their emergency getaway capsule last week for about 10 minutes because another piece of space junk came too close for comfort.

A Nasa spokesman said if the space station has to move, the shuttle will have to adjust its course slightly to be in position for docking on Tuesday.

Mission managers said yesterday that despite shortening Discovery's stay by a day, they would still be able to complete 80 per cent to 90 per cent of the tasks they had planned. The canceled spacewalk chores will be tackled by the space station crew after Discovery leaves.

"It's not a major setback to us," said Bill Gerstenmaier, Nasa's associate administrator for space operations. "We're able to accomplish everything we want."

That includes dropping off the space station's newest crew member: Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, who is replacing U.S. astronaut Sandra Magnus. From Tokyo, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura said he was relieved by the successful launch after the delays.

Other tasks during the 13-day mission include installing the station's last pair of solar wings so the orbiting outpost can operate at full power. The solar wings will join six already in place. The crew will also deliver supplies and hardware, most notably replacing a broken machine that turns urine into drinking water and a flusher and iodine solution to get rid of bacteria that is lurking in the water dispenser.

Nasa managers faced a tight schedule to get Discovery off the ground because of a Russian Soyuz rocket launch March 26. Discovery needs to be gone from the space station by the time the Russian spacecraft flies. The Soyuz will carry up a fresh crew for the space station. Nasa had until Tuesday to get Discovery flying or else the launch would have been bumped to April.

Problems with hydrogen valves kept the shuttle grounded for weeks in February and then a hydrogen leak during fueling prevented launch Wednesday. The valves worked as they should have and there were no leaks during fueling Sunday.

Discovery's crew also included pilot Tony Antonelli and astronauts Joseph Acaba, Steve Swanson, Richard Arnold and John Philips. Acaba and Arnold are former teachers.

Gerstenmaier said there was no apparent debris that came off the external fuel tank after a "first, quick look." Debris has been a concern for Nasa since a piece flew off the fuel tank and caused a breach in the wing of Columbia in 2003, dooming the shuttle and its seven crew members.

As insurance, Discovery's crew were spending a good part of today examining the shuttle's thermal protection system with cameras and sensors attached to a boom which is hooked to the shuttle's robotic arm.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
General Election
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

£12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders