NASA's Roadkill Posse

Vultures get in the way of shuttle launch

When the space shuttle Discovery launched under close scrutiny last July, those problematic chunks of fuel-tank insulation were not the only pieces of debris to strike the orbiter as it ascended to space. On its way through the skies above Cape Canaveral (situated in the middle of a wildlife preserve), the shuttle also struck a vulture—resulting in what was probably the most uniquely thrilling and terrifying death a bird could ever experience but, thankfully, causing no damage to the shuttle itself.

Eager to reduce the potential for heat-shield damage during launch (the cause of the 2003 Columbia accident), NASA has formed a Cape Canaveral "roadkill posse" that will attempt to eliminate the vultures' source of food, in hopes that the area's substantial population will relocate. NASA employees have also been encouraged to report all roadkill sightings on a special hotline. If all goes according to plan, Discovery will return to vulture-free skies sometime this summer. —John Mahoney