Frank the Frog Sacrificed Himself for NASA Launch
Mark Wilson/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
A wood frog is perched atop masses of jelly-covered wood frog eggs laid in a vernal pool. Seasonally wet pools in the woods host a variety of specialized creatures, including wood frogs and spring peepers. But unlike spring peepers, the wood frog has no large X across its back.
A male spring peeper, showing part of the X on its back, calls for a mate.
A spring peeper perches on an inky cap mushroom in the Eastern U.S.
A young spring peeper hides on dew-covered grass in a Virginia swamp. The frog is only 1/4-inch (6 mm) long.
In a new photo released by NASA of the much anticipated LADEE launch on Sept. 6, a surprising silhouette can be seen in the Minotaur 5 rocket smoke: a flying frog. Sadly, this isn’t a well thought-out photobomb stunt by the small amphibian, the poor little guy was in the wrong place at the wrong time and happened to be sitting on, or near, the launch pad. And then he croaked it.
“A still camera on a sound trigger captured this intriguing photo of an airborne frog as NASA’s LADEE spacecraft lifts off from Pad 0B at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The photo team confirms the frog is real and was captured in a single frame by one of the remote cameras used to photograph the launch. The condition of the frog, however, is uncertain.”
“Uncertain”? I’ll go out on a limb here to say that, in all likelihood, the frog didn’t make it.
This is a vivid reminder of the sacrifice some animals pay for our advancement in space. In 2009, the social media community was enthralled with a free-tail bat that had attached itself to space shuttle Discovery’s external fuel tank shortly before launch. While live-tweeting the launch, I had little option but to name the little guy “Brian” (a name I tend to use for all cute, furry animals). The name caught on and the launch went viral, not for the launch of the shuttle, but for the huge amount of concern for a small obviously helpless bat that was facing imminent doom.
Sadly, like our little froggy friend here, Brian did meet his doom, likely getting incinerated by a pair of solid rocket boosters. Still, Brian’s fans to this day like to believe he fulfilled his lifelong desire of being launched into space like a true pioneer. Frank the Frog, on the other hand, had little chance of becoming a LADEE stowaway, being blasted clear of the launch site.
Brian the Bat made the international press, getting picked up by Norwegian science journalist Geir Barnstein of Dagbladet.no, followed quickly by the UK’s Sun and Daily Mail newspapers.
I still discuss Brian the Bat during public talks as an example of the impact of Twitter on science media to this day.
Brian may be toast, but his memory lives on. As for Frank, we only know him as a (likely) corpse from a single launch pad photograph, but he will be forever remembered in history as a little frog with big ambitions.
“Ground Control to Major Toad” — comment via Gizmodo
Special thanks to Geir Barstein and Discovery News Tech Producer Tracy Staedter for letting me know about Frank.
Image credit: NASA