Press Release

NASA Balloon Makes Record-Breaking Flight

By SpaceRef Editor
January 23, 2002
Filed under , ,

Larger than a football field and flying near the edge of
space, a NASA scientific balloon has set a new flight record
of almost 32 days after completing two orbits around the
South Pole.

The record-breaking balloon carried the Trans-Iron Galactic
Element Recorder (Tiger) experiment, designed to search for
the origin of cosmic rays, atomic particles that travel
through the galaxy at near light-speeds and shower the Earth
constantly.

The pilotless, helium-filled scientific balloon was launched
from McMurdo Station, Antarctica, at 6:30 a.m. EST on Dec.
20, 2001. The balloon traveled approximately 8,800 miles
(about 1,400 kilometers) before landing about 31 days, 20
hours later at 3:03 a.m. EST, Jan. 21, 284 miles (458
kilometers) from the McMurdo Station. Payload recovery
operations are in progress.

The previous endurance record for a long-duration balloon
flight was set in January 2001 from McMurdo. The flight was
one orbit of the South Pole that lasted 26 days. The Tiger
mission was able to more than double the amount of continuous
science observational time over any previous balloon mission.

"We are excited with the duration of this flight, which
allowed the scientists to get ample science to perform their
studies," said Steve Smith, Chief of the Balloon Program
Office at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Wallops Flight
Facility, Wallops Island, Va. "We routinely have long-
duration balloons that float for up to two weeks, but to have
one flight last for over 31 days is very rewarding."

Scientific balloons are made of thin polyethylene material,
about the same thickness as ordinary sandwich wrap. An
enormous balloon was needed to hoist the two-ton Tiger
experiment to about 125,000 feet (38,100 meters). The Tiger
balloon is taller than the Washington Monument, which stands
just over 555 feet high. As the balloon rises, the gas it
contains expands. The balloon used for this Antarctic flight
expanded to a diameter of more than 424 feet (129 meters) and
weighed 3,687 pounds (1,674 kilograms).

To complete the flight, the experiment and its parachute
float to the ground after being separated from the balloon by
radio command. Helium was released from the balloon for its
descent near McMurdo station.

"The importance of Tiger is that it is the first experiment
that has both sufficient collecting power and adequate
resolution to measure abundances of all nuclei from iron
through zirconium," said Tiger Principal Investigator Robert
Binns, Washington University, St. Louis. "This will enable us
to determine whether the cosmic-ray source is hot or cold,
gas or solid. We have already seen in our quick-look analysis
of flight data that Tiger’s resolution is sufficient to
resolve those nuclei."

Personnel from the National Scientific Balloon Facility,
Palestine, Texas, who support approximately 25 NASA balloon
flights annually from sites worldwide, conducted the launch,
flight and recovery operations of the Tiger balloon mission.
Antarctica ground and air operations support was provided by
the National Science Foundation’s Office of Polar Programs.

Tiger is a collaboration among Washington University; NASA’s
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.; California
Institute of Technology, Pasadena; and the University of
Minnesota, Minneapolis. The Wallops Flight Facility manages
NASA’s Scientific Balloon Program for the Office of Space
Science, NASA Headquarters.

Information on NASA’s Scientific Balloon Program is available
on the Internet at:
http://www.wff.nasa.gov/pages/scientificballoons.html

http://master.nsbf.nasa.gov/fred/index.html

A plot of the balloon’s flight path can be viewed on the
Internet at:
http://192.149.107.13/ice0102.htm

Pictures and information on the Tiger mission can be found
at:
http://cosray2.wustl.edu/tiger/index.html

SpaceRef staff editor.