NASA science balloon sets flight record

Jan. 25, 2013 at 4:03 PM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 25 (UPI) -- NASA says a balloon launched in Antarctica and carrying a scientific experiment has broken the record for longest flight by a balloon of its size.

The balloon carrying the Super Trans-Iron Galactic Element Recorder (Super-TIGER) experiment has been aloft for 46 days and is on its third orbit around the South Pole, the space agency reported Thursday.

"This is an outstanding achievement for NASA's Astrophysics balloon team," said John Grunsfeld of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Keeping these huge balloons aloft for such long periods lets us do forefront science that would be difficult to do otherwise."

The Super-TIGER instrument is measuring rare heavy elements among the high-energy cosmic rays bombarding the Earth from elsewhere in our Milky Way galaxy.

The 39-million cubic foot scientific balloon launched Dec. 8 from the long duration balloon site near McMurdo Station, Antarctica, took its scientific payload to an altitude of 127,000 feet, more than four times the altitude of most commercial airliners, scientists said.

The McMurdo launch site takes advantage of the stratospheric anti-cyclonic wind pattern circulating from east to west around the South Pole.

The Super-TIGER science team said it plans to keep the balloon flying for eight to 10 more days to allow a close approach to McMurdo Station before terminating the flight and recovering the experiment.

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