NASA balloon in the air

NASA launched its super pressure balloon from Wanaka airport this morning. It went well. The weather was calm with no wind. Hundreds of local people watched as the balloon very slowly rose into the sky and the balloon started to open out. When it is fully open, it is the size of a football stadium. It is filled with helium. It carries 2 tonnes of scientific equipment for research on the upper atmosphere. The balloon is a low cost way to do this research, much cheaper than using spacecraft.

NASA hopes the balloon will reach 33km into the upper atmosphere and will stay at this altitude for 100 days. NASA expects it will travel around the globe every one to 3 weeks, moved by the easterly wind currents. It should finally land in Argentina. Keeping the balloon at a constant altitude is difficult with warm day-time temperatures and cool night-time temperatures.

We may see the balloon as it is passing over New Zealand either at sunrise or sunset, depending on cloud conditions.

NASA staff have been waiting in Wanaka for about 3 weeks. Cyclone Pam arrived about the same time as the original date for the balloon launch, and following that was 2 weeks of windy weather. However, this morning was perfect. Wanaka was chosen because it is at 45 degrees latitude where the winds are the best for this balloon.

If this is successful, NASA will return to Wanaka next year and maybe other years.

Click on NASA website for more information.

Vocabulary

• spacecraft – space ships (aircraft- planes)
• upper atmosphere – near space
• launch (v) – start a new plan or idea or object
• constant (adj) – not changing
• altitude – height above sea level






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