Up, Up and Away!
(...and back down)
May 8, 1997
Just in: MIXE2 landed west of Oklahoma City, about 6 a.m. CDT, Thursday, May 8, after 15 hours aloft. The team reports that they received good science data during the flight. We will post recovery pictures when they become available. Stay tuned for the SOFCAL launch in a few days. When balloons are aloft, check their progress at the National Scientific Ballooning Facility.
The Marshall Imaging X-ray Experiment (MIXE2) was launched Wednesday, May 7, after several frustrating days of waiting for the winds to be just right at Fort Sumner, N.M.
In the picture below, the balloon rises with the parachute and experiment gondola in train. Although not much to look at now, the balloon will expand (as atmospheric pressure drops with altitude) to the size of a baseball stadium when it reaches its cruise altitude of 30 to 40 km.
MIXE2 is piggybacking with a complementary X-ray imaging instrument from Havard College Observatory. You can get the complete story, Peeking at the Innards of the Universe, or check the pictures below showing how a balloon is launched.
Photos by Fred Berry of MSFC's Space Sciences Laboratory, Flight Experiments Branch.
Before inflation starts, several mechanical details have to be done, including (from left) checking the valves at the top of the balloon, unreeling the balloon plastic to full length (middle two pictures), and attaching the parachute (right).
The operation starts with a sounding balloon (left) to check winds. Inflation of the main balloon starts with technicians holding special nozzles that blow helium through tubes into the balloon (middle two pictures). Finally, just like a rocket launch, range safety is there (right) with the "bitty box" that radios a command to cut the balloon if all else fails.
Inflating the balloon takes a full hour. During that time, the winds cannot rise above 18 km/h (10 knots), otherwise the balloon could be torn apart.
RELEASE! After all the preparations are done, the tether to the van is cut and the balloon rises until it lifts the parachute and the support lines. The Mobile Launch Vehicle (second photo) ensures that the lines to the experiment package take the load evenly until the gondola is "off pin," or floating free (third and fourth photos).
Author: Dave Dooling
Curator: Bryan Walls
NASA Official: John M. Horack