What was done to prevent or remove wildlife such as alligators and birds from the runway at Kennedy Space Center, so the Shuttle could land safely?

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    $\begingroup$ Jumping has been tried. Without known outcome, though. space.com/22772-frog-photobombs-nasa-moon-launch.html $\endgroup$
    – LocalFluff
    Commented Sep 14, 2019 at 14:33
  • $\begingroup$ Space Frog is hilarious, but that's launch, not landing. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 14, 2019 at 14:57
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    $\begingroup$ While I'd imagine tile damage at the least, I suspect birds might be more a risk to the T38 chase planes than to the orbiter. In fact astronaut Theodore Freeman was killed when a goose struck the canopy of a T38 and shards went into the engines. I suspect the orbiter's windows are stronger and the very high angle of attack means less likelihood of a windscreen hit and a glancing collision if one does happen. The orbiter has no airbreathing engines to ingest anything, but the T38 does and remains at substantial risk as a result. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 14, 2019 at 18:49

1 Answer 1


For birds, NASA deployed its heavy weaponry - propane cannons.

A series of 25 liquid propane cannons, placed in strategic locations along the east and west sides of the SLF runway, are controlled by air traffic controllers in the tower and remotely by bird-watchers in the field. These cannons, installed in September 2007, are fired randomly by zone, individually or all at once. Each rotates in a 360-degree pattern for the greatest effect.

SLF = Shuttle Landing Facility

More intractable avians got a personal visit. The gun was - reportedly - only used to scare them.

Smith fires shotguns and pistols loaded with blanks to scare large flocks of birds away from the runway. From time to time, he sounds a special siren from his truck or uses a remote control to set off cannons.

enter image description here

Source: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/behindscenes/clearbirds.html

For mobile speed bumps such as alligators, my memory says a walkdown was done of the runway prior to landing. I can't find a reference for that, however, except for this rather vague statement:

Prior to each Kennedy Shuttle landing, it is the task of a special crew to clear the runway of all debris, including any alligators that might be sunning themselves on the runway surface.

Source: https://www.nasa.gov/centers/kennedy/shuttleoperations/alligators/kscovrv.html

The SLF logo proudly featured a gator!

enter image description here

(Personal photo)

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    $\begingroup$ But the cannons were installed four years after the Columbia accident. The first launch after Columbia was in 2006. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Commented Sep 14, 2019 at 15:42
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    $\begingroup$ @Uwe it may surprise you to learn that NASA does not always move quickly. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 14, 2019 at 15:45
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    $\begingroup$ "Wow you work at NASA! What do you do??" "Well... I clear the runway of alligators" $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 14, 2019 at 16:33
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    $\begingroup$ @SarahBailey one of my JSC co-workers had convinced his family that it was his job to clean the space toilets. I am not sure if he ever, um, "came clean". $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 14, 2019 at 16:34
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    $\begingroup$ @MagicOctopusUrn just noise, lol. Example (no idea if this was what they used) wildlifecontrolsupplies.com/animal/WCSRJM4.html $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 17, 2019 at 16:01

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