NASA balloon flight breaks world record

The NASA Super-TIGER balloon recently broke the current record for the longest duration of a flight by a balloon its size. The balloon has been up in the air for a total of 46 days and is now on its third orbit of the South Pole.

John Grunsfeld works for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA’s Washington headquarters. He called the record-breaking flight an ‘outstanding achievement’ for the astrophysics balloon team at NASA. He explained how using hot air balloon technology in this way lets scientists carry out field work that would otherwise be extremely difficult.

The balloon is carrying what is known as the Super Trans-Iron Galactic Element Recorder, or Super-TIGER, which is a new tool for analysing the elements making up the high-energy rays hitting the earth from distant points in our Milky Way Galaxy. The information gathered from the flight will help scientists determine where these nuclei are produced and why they carry high levels of energy.

The Super-TIGER was launched from a site close to McMurdo Station in Antarctica on 8th December 2012, going on to shatter the previous flight duration record of just under 42 days, which was set back in 2005.

The site next to McMurdo Station makes use of the area’s wind patterns, which circle east to west over the South Pole and allow specialised scientific flights to reach heights of more than 100 km.

The balloon itself measures almost 40 million cubic square feet and the Super-TIGER equipment weighs 6,000lbs – the equivalent of an SUV.

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