Nov 23, 1998

Leonids Sample Return payload has been found

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Scientists are examining the aerogel 'comet-catcher' for traces of Leonid meteoroids
the recovered balloon payload at the Chattanooga Airport
November 23, 1998: The Leonids Sample Return payload has been recovered. It was pinpointed by amateur balloon trackers on November 18th, and rescued from a briar patch in Chatsworth, Georgia in good condition.

Right: The recovered Leonids Sample Return payload at the Chattanooga Airport. The "Comet Catcher" is a matrix of aerogel-filled wells that were attached to the outside of the balloon in hopes of capturing Leonid micro-meteoroids at an altitude of 100,000 ft.

The balloon was launched on November 17th during the Leonids meteor shower by scientists at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. It carried a CCD video camera to record the shower for a live webcast, as well as a device designed to capture Leonid meteoroids and return them to Earth intact.
aerogel meteoroid sample catcher
The "Comet Catcher", pictured left in the lab, is a matrix of aerogel-filled wells (similar to Petri dishes) that were fixed to the outside of the balloon package. The payload was carried to an altitude greater than 100,000 feet, above 98% of Earth's atmosphere, during a flight that lasted 1 hour 54 minutes. At its maximum altitude the balloon ruptured, according to plan, and the payload descended to Earth by parachute for a relatively gentle landing in Georgia.

The aerogel sample collectors have been returned to scientists at the NASA Marshall Space Sciences Lab, where they are being examined with an environmental scanning electron microscope for evidence of meteoroids. Bill Brown (WB8ELK) contributed this account of the recovery:

"Today (Nov. 18th), Melody Johnson and pilot Don Henson flew over Chatsworth, Georgia and pinpointed the landing site by homing in on the 144.000 MHz tracking signal coming from the balloon. Melody used a ham radio unit supplied by Randy Ware, director of the technology center of Dalton Junior High School."


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"As soon as they landed, Melody drove to the area and homed in on the signal and stopped in front of Homer's Yarn and Textile Sales when the radio signal became very strong. After explaining the situation (Quote: 'NASA needs YOU!!'), owner Homer Dills walked behind his warehouse and found the payload lying in a briar patch just behind the building. The payload is in excellent condition and the strobe lamp was still flashing."

"The landing site is just off of Old Dalton Ellijay Road about 1.6 miles due west of downtown Chatsworth, Georgia. Coordinates: 34d 46.19m N, 84d 47.90m W."

Below: Ed Myszka (left) who built the payload, poses with Melody Johnson (middle) and her daughter Katie (right) after they tracked down the payload in Georgia.
Ed Myszka (left), Melody Johnson (middle), and Katie Johnson (right)
"Melody Johnson lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee and works at Al Johnson Volvo and Volkswagen in Dalton, Georgia. Her daughter Katie is a student at Girls Preparatory School in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Melody has experience in tracking high altitude balloon experiments with Bill Brown WB8ELK for Project HALO (High Altitude Lift Off) flown by the Huntsville, Alabama chapter of the National Space Society's Project HALO and also for the Atlanta Balloonatics group. She organized today's tracking effort which resulted in a speedy recovery. She has been awarded the title, 'Ace Balloon Tracker'." Web Links

Leonids Live! - images and video from the 1998 Leonid meteor storm

Meteor counts - submit your own meteor counts to NASA!

1998 Leonids Data Bank -- a useful summary of Leonids information from NASA Ames.

The November Leonids: Will they Roar? -- Predictions from JPL

Eyewitness accounts of the 1966 storm -- an Ames Research Center Archive

NASA's Office of Space Science - press releases and other news related to NASA and astrophysics

Related Stories:

Great Expectations: the 1998 Leonids Meteor Shower -- the basics of the Leonid meteors. Includes eyewitness accounts from the great 1966 storm and observing hints for 1998.

Halley's comet returns in bits and pieces -- story posted Oct 20 on the Orionid meteor shower

Giacobinids dazzle observers

Tune-up for the Leonids - story posted Oct 7, discusses the astronomy of the Giacobinids

External Links:

The Leonids -- from Gary Kronk Meteors and Comets web site

International Meteor Organization


meteor flash!
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Author: Tony Phillips
Production Editor: Dr. Tony Phillips
Curator: Bryan Walls
Responsible NASA official: John M. Horack