The mighty space shuttle Discovery, which has braved the fearsome voids of space, could not survive the yellow-shafted flicker.
NASA yesterday was forced to cancel Discovery's planned June 8 launch because the industrious flickers -- a type of woodpecker common to the Cape Canaveral area -- had pecked 135 holes in the foam insulation of the shuttle's huge external fuel tank.
The tank holds extremely cold liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen, and the foam prevents formation of ice that could fall off during launch and damage the orbiter. Over the past few days, the marauding avians gouged out patches as large as 4 inches in diameter.
Repair personnel reportedly could not reach all the beak-dents from the launch pad, even with a crane. So the 184-foot-long spacecraft will be returned to a hangar. Discovery's mission, intended to place a NASA satellite in orbit, will be delayed at least until July, NASA officials said yesterday. There was no immediate word on the fate or nutritional status of the 12-inch-long birds, who were believed to be nesting at the pad. At least two flickers have been implicated in the incident, although the exact number is uncertain. Associated Press reported that NASA "used plastic owl decoys, horns and tape-recorded hoots to scare off" the birds -- but to no avail.