Although poor weather led to the postponement of the historic crew rocket launch on Wednesday (and still looms over the rescheduled liftoff this weekend), a lurking presence had come to wave the astronauts off at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Launch Complex 39A in Florida. No, this isn’t a reference to Donald Trump, but in fact a real live alligator.
Speaking to Chicago’s WGN News, Frank Robb, an alligator trapping agent, explained how he was called by NASA to remove an alligator that had wandered onto the launch pad during preparations for the historic crewed mission’s take-off.
“He had walked in the security gate, and was walking around there, just taking a stroll,” Robb said. “I think he wanted to go for a spaceflight personally – alligators in space is something we’re missing.”
Luckily for Robb, this was no wild goose chase, and the gator was rounded up promptly. “I just put a rope on him, caught him and he loaded up in the truck pretty easy,” he explained.
Alligators are no strangers to the space complex in Florida. The center shares a border with the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, which is home to more than 330 native and migratory bird species, 25 mammal species, 117 fish, and the all-important 65 amphibian and reptile species. Drainage canals and other waters around the KSC attract lots of alligators further into the space site, and have been spotted by employees strutting down the path nicknamed “Gator Walk.”
Robb, who is also involved in a medical project to draw blood from the alligators at KSC to help develop antiviral and antibacterial drugs for humans, recalled to WGN News some of the other places he has come across the animals.
“Over the years, you never know what to expect from the Kennedy Space Center,” he said. “There’s gators that end up in the craziest of places, from in the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building), to under the pads, under the shuttles, under the dragon capsules, it’s all kinds of weird stuff.”
Back in 2009, an alligator actually halted space shuttle Endeavour's STS-127 mission crew on their way to a rehearsal liftoff. The gator (which they later adopted as their mascot), strolled into the path of their astrovan as they were traveling down the Saturn Causeway to Launch Pad 39A.
Alligators are not the only animals that have sabotaged science. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Geneva has experienced its own fair share of animal disasters grinding things to a halt, from a baguette-dropping bird, to a nibbling weasel.