Carrying a device built by a team led by Simon Swordy, James Franck Professor in Physics at the University of Chicago, a NASA scientific balloon broke the flight record for duration and distance. Flying near the edge of space, it soared for nearly 42 days, making three orbits around the South Pole.
The record-breaking balloon, almost as large as one-and-a-half football fields, carried the Cosmic Ray Energetics And Mass (CREAM) experiment. CREAM is designed to explore the supernova acceleration limit of cosmic rays, the relativistic gas of protons, electrons and heavy nuclei arriving at Earth from outside the solar system.
The pilot-less, helium-filled scientific balloon was launched from the National Science Foundation's McMurdo Station, Antarctica on Dec. 16, 2004. The balloon traveled 41 days and 22 hours. It landed on January 27, 660 kilometers (410 miles) from McMurdo Station. Payload recovery operations are in progress.
The previous endurance record for a balloon flight was in December 2001, orbiting the South Pole twice over 31 days, 20 hours.
"We are excited with the duration of this flight, which allowed scientists to get ample data to perform their studies," said David Pierce, Chief of the Balloon Program Office at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center's Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Va. "We routinely have long duration balloons that float for up to two weeks, but to have one flight last more than 41 days is very rewarding," he added.
Scientific balloons are made of thin polyethylene material, about the same thickness as ordinary sandwich wrap. An enormous balloon was needed to hoist the two-ton CREAM experiment to about 125,000 feet. NASA's balloon expanded to a diameter of more than 450 feet and weighed 4,055 pounds.
The CREAM experiment is collaboration among the University of Maryland, the University of Chicago, Penn State University, universities and organizations in Italy, Korea, France and Mexico.
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