Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Little Balloon that Could

After a fabulous five-day flight, we have just cut down the first payload that we launched this year.  The balloon had a double portion of passion, was full to the brim with tenacity, and just would not give up.  Its constant thought was "I think I can, I think I can."  Even though it didn't go quite as high, initially, as we hoped it would, and even though it didn't travel in the direction we hoped it would, it continued to perform miraculously to the end.  Its original float altitude was 112,000 feet.  Even just in the last twelve hours, it rose nearly 30,000 feet back up to over 112,000 feet, baffling even the most experienced of balloon experts.  And it was even able to detect some high energy aurora!

Actually, I'm partially joking here, we are not as sentimental as all that.  We have had a good time, though, joking that this was the "Little Balloon that Could."  It was indeed a lot of fun to watch throughout its flight, as it did some amazing things.  The reason for cutting it down was that it was getting within a few hundred miles of airline flight routes.  The decision to cut it down came today after an analysis of its altitude performance and current trajectory.  Since it initially travelled nearly due north for the first part of its flight, it was just a tad bit too far north to allow it to continue.  We here at McMurdo think it was unfortunate to terminate it so soon, especially since we think it could have continued for much longer.  We are pleased, though, with the results we achieved with this balloon and this flight.

Here's the final flight path of the Little Balloon that Could:

2010-12-19 2:57pm (NZDT)

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