Subject: news
Date: Wed, 12 Jul 95 20:59 SAST
     07/12/95 NASA's Scare Tactics Keep Birds at Bay                
     By Kathy Sawyer
      Washington Post Staff Writer
     CAPE CANAVERAL -- The angry, disembodied eyes seem puny against
     the spires of launchpad 39B, but they are apparently enough to
     frighten a woodpecker.
     Called Predator Eyes, they are imprinted on the skin of tethered
     yellow balloons that flutter in the ocean breezes around the
     steel and concrete launch tower. They, along with the six plastic
     Wal-Mart owls and the pad technicians equipped with air horns and
     water hoses (a team now known affectionately as "pecker
     checkers") are
     among the defenses NASA has set up in recent weeks here on the
     threshold of space to fend off further assaults by a couple of
     love-crazed woodpeckers with tireless beaks.
     The space shuttle Discovery, with the pale scars of 205 mended
     holes visible in the orange foam insulation of its 15-story
     propellant tank (ET), is back in harm's way, on the pad, but
     have been no woodpecker sightings in weeks. Launch is scheduled
     Thursday morning.
     The problem came to light Memorial Day weekend, when technicians
     spotted dozens of perforations up to four inches in diameter.
     concluding that the damage could not be repaired in time for a
     June 8 lift-off, NASA launch managers ordered the 184-foot
     rolled back from the pad to its hangar. They estimate the avian
     saboteurs have cost the agency more than $2 million, including up
     $100,000 for the extra round trip between pad and hangar as well
     payments associated with the five-week delay of the mission to
     a sophisticated tracking and data-relay satellite.
     The two-inch-thick foam is designed to keep large chunks of ice
     from forming on the external tank before a launch, as it is
     with super-cooled, explosive liquid oxygen and hydrogen. At
     ice could break off and damage the spaceship's surfaces.
     Today, officials said, technicians are to remove the "eyes" and
     owls so that they are not destroyed when the shuttle blasts off
     -- not
     only to preserve them, but to avoid creating potentially damaging
     plastic shrapnel, said Kennedy Space Center spokesman Bruce
     Buckingham. If the beaked marauders reappear during this window
     vulnerability, launch teams will play a tape "of crows fighting
     ospreys squawking" over the pad's loud speakers, he said.
     The sabotage apparently was accomplished by just two woodpeckers,
     of a type called Northern Flickers (also known as yellow-shafted
     flickers), according to NASA test director Steve Altemus,
     chairman of
     NASA's new Bird Investigation Review and Deterrent team (BIRD).
     the initial reports, dozens of woodpecker prevention tips poured
     unsolicited from around the world, including: spray the tank with
     water in which cabbage has been boiled, or with raccoon scent;
     the entire shuttle with chicken wire; stun the birds with laser
     or kill them with plain old shotguns.
     The Predator Eyes balloons were sent in by a "mom and pop outfit"
     in Minnesota, Buckingham said. The proprietor got the idea for
     product on a trip to Japan, where he saw farmers flying this
     on the scarecrow over their fields. The owl decoys, purchased at
     local Wal-Mart, were recommended by wildlife specialists, he
     The launch complex sits in the midst of a wildlife refuge
     inhabited by some 400 protected or endangered bird species. A
     feature on bus tours is a 25 year-old eagle's nest that is the
     size of
     a queen-sized mattress. Yet, in the last 15 years, only minimal
     damage has been reported to spacecraft -- until now. The BIRD
     team, in
     a preliminary report completed yesterday, suggests that the many
     flickers that live around the launch complex are in a turf war
     starlings. "It is possible that the flickers attempting to
     excavate a
     cavity in the ET had lost a nest or roost cavity to starlings. .
     . .
     If a nest is overtaken before the female can lay her eggs, the
     becomes desperate for a nest. This may explain the unusually
     aggressive behavior of the flicker pair that damaged the tank."
     The flickers may have given up because they could not penetrate
     the tank's aluminum skin to excavate a cavity deep enough for a
     the report suggests, "or the scare devices and tactics
     implemented to
     date might have succeeded." The report recommends numerous
     measures such as making the pad less attractive to the birds by
     burning or cutting vegetation, removing dead stumps, posts and
     "prime flicker habitat," and making the ant population -- a
     staple of
     the flicker diet -- less accessible by mowing the grass less

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