Thursday, April 29, 2010

Massive NASA Space Balloon Crashes in Australia

A giant 400-foot (121-meter) balloon belonging to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) crashed into the Australian outback on Thursday, April 29, 2010. The balloon was loaded with a telescope that had been built to scan the sky at wavelengths invisible to the human eye. the balloon crashed just after the balloon was beginning to lift its payload. It crashed through a fence, overturned a nearby SUV and narrowly missed another parked car containing an Alice Springs couple watching the launch. The equipment carried by the balloon was destroyed.

The launch of the balloon and telescope occurred at the Alice Springs Balloon Launching Center in the northern territory of Australia.

The telescope being carried by the balloon was a Nuclear Compton Telescope (NCT), a gamma-ray telescope built by astronomer Steven Boggs and his colleagues at the University of California at Berkeley. The telescope took the team of scientists years to build. Some of the NCT components appear to have survived the crash relatively intact.

Had the launch gone off without a hitch, the balloon would have climbed to an altitude of approximately 23 miles (37 kilometers). This was the second NASA balloon campaign this month in the Australian territory. The first experiment, which happened on April 15, 2010, was a launch of a Tracking and Imaging Gamma Ray Experiment, a gamma-ray telescope, for searching the galactic center of the sky for emissions from radioactive materials. That launch went according to plan.

The crash site has been cleaned up and the wreckage returned to a staging hangar. The crash is being investigated. The balloon was unmanned and no one was injured as a result of the crash.

Australian officials have announced another balloon payload, an X-ray telescope named HERO for mapping the galactic center for NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in May of this year.

NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is an Executive Branch agency of the United States government. It's duties include aeronautics and aerospace research and the United States space program. The mission statement of NASA is to "pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research." It was established on July 29, 1985 and became fully operational on October 1, 1958. It employs almost 18,000 individuals with an annual budget of almost 18 billion US dollars. It is is headquartered in Washington, D.C. and has 18 centers, stations and facilities in the United States and one station each in Canberra, Australia and Madrid, Spain.

For more information on NASA visit their official web site.

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