April 29, 2010

NASA Balloon Crashes In Australia

A NASA science balloon crashed during a launch attempt in Australia today, possibly destroying its multimillion dollar payload, wrecking into a car, and nearly injuring spectators.

According to reports from the UK newspaper The Register, "The giant gasbag was intended to ascend 20 miles to the edge of space, there to measure cosmic gamma-ray emissions and probe the mysteries of the universe. Unfortunately the launch near the town of Alice Springs went wrong and the small-truck sized payload gondola slung beneath the envelope hurtled sideways across the ground, wrecking a parked car (fortunately unoccupied) and almost destroying another."

It is believed that the balloon was carrying a gamma-ray monitoring telescope that cost an estimated $5 million to $10 million dollars at the time. According to Ravi Sood, the director of the Alice Springs Balloon Launching Center, the device and nearly all of the craft's payload was destroyed in the crash.

"It's not only the money. It's the countless hours of time of work put in by the people who worked on this project," Sood told Australian news website "The wind was too strong and it pushed it away and into the spectator's car."

"Ballooning, that's the way it happens on occasions but it is very, very disappointing. Gut-wrenching actually," the professor added, according to the UK's The Register.

"We started moving the cars and just barely made it out without getting smashed," one eye-witness told Times Online, while another noted that "[There was] debris flying through the air everywhere."

The football-field sized balloon was scheduled to rise to an altitude of 25 miles, where it would make observations and conduct astrophysics experiments. Despite the wreck, officials at the Alice Springs base plan to go forth with the launch of a second, similar balloon next month.


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