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Jason DavisMarch 19, 2015

Launch Pad Animals, Ranked

Yesterday, thanks to a tweet by Chris Bergin of, I met Baikonur Gopher.

Baikonur Gopher lives in Kazakhstan and builds tunnels under the steppe. Baikonur Gopher is intensely curious, and wants to know why someone left a perfectly nice GoPro just sitting in the dirt. Baikonur Gopher is not particularly concerned with the rail lines leading to the massive Proton rocket in the background, even when large pieces of equipment roll across said rail lines.

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Baikonur Gopher

I tweeted about Baikonur Gopher, and as of this morning, about 12,000 additional people have met the pleasant little rodent. For comparison, one of my preceding tweets about the Space Launch System was seen by about 200 people.

Therefore, I must give the masses what they want. I must give them Baikonur Gopher, and all the other creatures that co-inhabit rocket launch sites around the world.  

Here are your launch pad animals, ranked.

6. MUOS Turkey Vulture

MUOS Turkey Vulture was hanging around Space Launch Complex 41, looking for carrion, when an Atlas V rocket had to go and spoil the peace and quiet. Look for MUOS Turkey Vulture in flight near the American flag.

MUOS Vulture

Ben Cooper

MUOS Vulture

5. Discovery Bat

This poor bat, which was probably injured before it perched on the side of space shuttle Discovery’s external fuel tank, was last seen clearing the tower at Launch Complex 39A. 

Discovery bat


Discovery bat

4. Baikonur Gopher

We've met Baikonur Gopher already, but it's also worth noting that hanging out near Proton rocket launches can be dicey.

Baikonur Gopher


Baikonur Gopher

3. Shuttle alligators

The alligators seen hanging around Kennedy Space Center aren’t necessarily tied to the shuttle program. But shuttle alligators like a nice, sunny runway, and woe be it to the crew that had to clear them out of the way for orbiter landings.

Shuttle alligators

NASA / Ken Thornsley

Shuttle alligators

2. Grasshopper Cows

These Texas cows were grazing in the field, minding their own business, when a reusable rocket technology demonstrator roared to life in their backyard. I bet cows in Oklahoma don’t have to put up with this nonsense.

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Grasshopper cows

1. Wallops Frog

Wallops Frog is the clear winner. It’s one thing to be in the general vicinity of a rocket launch; it’s quite another to climb into the flame trench of a Minotaur rocket. If only we could all leave this world as spectacularly as Wallops Frog, silhouetted against a fiery cloud for one final moment of glory. 

Wallops Frog

NASA Wallops Flight Facility / Chris Perry

Wallops Frog

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Jason Davis

Editorial Director for The Planetary Society
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