Well, at least they didn't launch it at Roswell

When you think of NASA and crashes, you think of things like this:

But, you usually don’t think about government balloon crashes being “dramatic”, unless of course it’s a balloon crash in Roswell, NM in 1947.

Watch this video from Australia’s ABC:

A huge NASA balloon loaded with a telescope painstakingly built to scan the sky at wavelengths invisible to the human eye crashed in the Australian outback Thursday, destroying the astronomy experiment and just missing nearby onlookers, according to Australian media reports.

In dramatic video released by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC),  the giant 400-foot (121-meter) balloon is seen just beginning to lift its payload, then the telescope gondola appears to unexpectedly come loose from its carriage. The telescope crashes through a fence and overturn a nearby parked sport utility vehicle before finally stopping.

Video via Space.com/Yahoo News:

Fortunately, nobody was hurt, but as you can see in the video, it was a close call.

h/t to Steve Goddard

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57 thoughts on “Well, at least they didn't launch it at Roswell

  1. Oops. Guess they weren’t as sucessful as the guy who sent his digital camera up 35mi. in a balloon.

  2. Unexpected strong winds and they *launched*? That sounds like the action of a bunch of amateurs.
    On the plus side, nobody was hurt, and, judging by the orange and white stripes, the recovery parachute can still serve as a small circus tent…

  3. rbateman, I did a better job flying my cell phone:

    And really, if it wasn’t for AGW and Manmade Climate Change the winds wouldn’t have been so strong!!! So don’t blame NASA.
    (It is increasingly difficult to take NASA seriously, which is a travesty.)

  4. The Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility (re-named to memorialize the shuttle) launches balloons with payloads of up to four tons. The largest balloons, made of a film about the thickness and appearance of what your dry-cleaning comes back in, have a surface area of up to four acres. Technicians on the ground track the balloon/payload as far away as 300 miles before they’re blocked by the curvature of the Earth.
    Specially designed balloons have floated above Anarctica for close to eight weeks collecting valuable scientific data much like, and greatly cheaper than, a satellite, space station or shuttle experiment. Most of the time, the payloads, which can cost millions and take years to build, can easily be recovered with little or no damage.
    Comparing high altitude research ballooning to some guy who straps a cell-phone to a camera and sends it up on a weather balloon is, IMHO, stupid.

  5. The US missile program didnt get on track until they set Werner von Braun and his crew on the job.
    Now Werner et. al. has gone into history, and they have trouble even launching a balloon.
    hehe.

  6. T. Paul:
    Take a deep breath, relax, maybe say your mantra a few times.
    Then repeat after me: not everything posted on the internet is supposed to be taken literally. Not everything posted on the internet is supposed to be taken literally. Not everything posted on the internet is supposed to be taken literally!
    Anyway… bottom line here is, it doesn’t matter what your experience is, if you screw up that bad you’re going to get laughed at. That WAS a screw-up. Do you know how I can tell that was a screw-up? By watching someone’s TRUCK getting turned over! Heck, a Space Shuttle hasn’t turned someone’s truck over since what, 1983?

  7. Comparing high altitude research ballooning to some guy who straps a cell-phone to a camera and sends it up on a weather balloon is, IMHO, stupid.
    Yeah. The guy with the cell phone and camera balloon actually succeeds.

  8. @ kwik says: April 29, 2010 at 12:49 pm
    “The US missile program didnt get on track until they set Werner von Braun and his crew on the job.”
    The State Library in Tasmania has a copy of Werner von Braun’s autobiography. The inscription on the frontispiece reads: “My aim is the stars”.
    Underneath someone pencilled: “But mostly hit London”.
    🙂

  9. Given that the NASA engineers have learned their latest tricks at Al Gore’s knee, it is not surprising that the wind was blowing so hard.

  10. I watched that on the TV news last night. Hilarious!
    NASA should be abolished. All of it. Lock stock and barrel. It is just pork and a hi tech jobs for the dole program.
    I say this as a long time supporter of spaceflight, peopled or not and the sight of a ship lifting for space brings tears to my eyes every time while missiles have no effect.
    I have other knowledge of NASA’s incompetence. On Steve Fossett’s glider altitude record it was my gear that proved that they got into the stratosphere when the NASA instrument package failed. There’s more to that too that doesn’t make NASA look good.

  11. OT NEWS: Oh, Mann: Cuccinelli targets UVA papers in Climategate salvo
    Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli …. may be preparing a legal assault on an embattled proponent of global warming theory who used to teach at the University of Virginia, Michael Mann.
    In papers sent to UVA April 23, Cuccinelli’s office commands the university to produce a sweeping swath of documents relating to Mann’s receipt of nearly half a million dollars in state grant-funded climate research conducted while Mann— now director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State— was at UVA between 1999 and 2005.

    http://www.readthehook.com/blog/index.php/2010/04/29/oh-mann-cuccinelli-targets-uva-papers-in-climategate-salvo/

  12. Ah, that was the Nuclear Compton Telescope.
    Abstract of “Performance of the Nuclear Compton Telescope” detailing an earlier launch:

    On 1 June 2005, the prototype Nuclear Compton Telescope (NCT) flew on a high altitude balloon from Fort Sumner, New Mexico. NCT is a balloon-borne soft γ-ray (0.2–10 MeV) telescope for studying astrophysical sources of nuclear line emission and γ-ray polarization. Our program is designed to develop and test technologies and analysis techniques crucial for the Advanced Compton Telescope; however, our detector design and configuration is also well matched to the focal plane requirements for focusing Laue lenses. The NCT prototype utilizes two, 3D imaging germanium detectors (GeDs) in a novel, ultra-compact design optimized for nuclear line emission in the 0.5–2 MeV range. Our prototype flight provides a critical test of the novel detector technologies, analysis techniques, and background rejection procedures developed for high resolution Compton telescopes.

    Here is info about a successful 2009 flight with an in-depth description of the NCT (final version?).
    And finally the NCT’s home page. Enjoy!

  13. Dr Carol Rosin has interesting stories about VVB
    “Von Braun’s purpose during the last years of his life, his dying years, was to educate the public and decision-makers about why space-based weapons are dumb, dangerous, destabilizing, too costly, unnecessary, unworkable, and an undesirable idea, and about the alternatives that are available.”
    But there are trillions of dollars to be made Dr Braun, trillions I tell you!
    “The strategy that Wernher Von Braun taught me was that first the Russians are going to be considered to be the enemy. In fact, in 1974, they were the enemy, the identified enemy. We were told that they had “killer satellites”. We were told that they were coming to get us and control us-that they were “Commies.”
    Then terrorists would be identified, and that was soon to follow. We heard a lot about terrorism. Then we were going to identify third-world country “crazies.” We now call them Nations of Concern. But he said that would be the third enemy against whom we would build space-based weapons.
    The next enemy was asteroids. Now, at this point he kind of chuckled the first time he said it.
    Asteroids- against asteroids we are going to build space-based weapons.
    And the funniest one of all was what he called aliens, extraterrestrials. That would be the final scare. And over and over and over during the four years that I knew him and was giving speeches for him, he would bring up that last card. “And remember Carol, the last card is the alien card. We are going to have to build space-based weapons against aliens and all of it is a lie.””

  14. Glad no one was hurt, of course.
    My favorite foulup is still crashing a very expensive probe into Mars because they forgot to make the conversion from metric to ‘merican.

  15. If Richard Heene was in charge of this project, they would have a successful launch, the payload would have been delivered safely, and the flight would have been covered live by every news agency on the planet.

  16. The place has had sight seeing balloons crash previously. It is a place where low level jet streams and downslopes winds over the nearby w to e orientated ranges are common at night and early in the morning. I have published a met paper on the downslope wind effects togther with 2 other guys back in the 90’s in the Australian Met Mag. I would have thought that they would have sent up a trial small belloon to test for such conditions before inflating the huge experiment costly one!

  17. So what would happen if YOUR organization was designated as THE MOST professional and knowledgeable at predicting events of a particular kind, even on a global basis far into the future…. And then you destroyed a few million dollars worth equipment because you failed to predict or anticipate a relatively common local event of the same kind?
    Yeah, not really a fair comparison but I’ll bet someone would be fired and as said above, lucky no one was hurt. And it’s a real shame every time a few million dollars worth of my taxes go “up” in a big ball of dust. Oh well, soon there wont be any more to take.

  18. American imperialists destroying the rich environment of our Australian outback! Up to 132% of endangered species may have gone extinct. Nothing will assuage our sense of loss. Except a suitable payout for damages to the UN world authority/government who will pass on every cent of it to our struggling nation with total efficiency and transparency. Please contact our Swiss bank account to arrange details.

  19. Re:
    stevengoddard :
    April 29, 2010 at 12:25 pm
    Hysterical. 🙂
    Does this mean that a C list reality actor wannabee is more technically capable than NASA?

  20. I wonder if those SUV owners will have difficulty filing their insurance claims stating their vehicles were hit by a balloon? A balloon?? Bet they’re glad to have that encounter on video, for sure.
    But what if NASA isn’t covered? Is that a no-fault state? Oh my…

  21. #
    #
    kwik says:
    April 29, 2010 at 12:49 pm
    The US missile program didnt get on track until they set Werner von Braun and his crew on the job.
    Now Werner et. al. has gone into history, and they have trouble even launching a balloon.
    hehe.
    ________________________________________________________
    Yes but you can still find Werner von Braun’s daughter at Science Fiction Conventions. Perhaps she could help.

  22. “I just send them up, who knows WHERE they come down? That’s not my department,” says Wernher Von Braun.

  23. The breeze did seem mild but those vehicles and the wire fence were certainly in the firing line. The launch truck initially was in line with the wind direction but,oddly, turned anti-clockwise and seemed to reach about 90 deg. from its initial position when the instruments were released. The release looks accidental but the truck at that final position looked vulnerable to tipping over in higher winds. Very strange, the whole set up.

  24. It could have been worse.
    Thank goodness it didn’t drag it, through a windmill complex.
    Science on the cheap, results not unexpected. sad.

  25. It is very common in the Australian desert to have calm conditions on the ground at daybreak, only to see 35 knots or so at 200 ft elevation.
    Once the inversion breaks down, the wind is apparent at ground level.
    The reason people launch balloons early in the morning is to take advantage of the calm surface conditions BUT that means nothing when the balloon is two or three hundred feet high.
    They’ve been launching these things from Alice Springs since 1963 or so…Surely someone must understand local conditions.
    Were they THAT desperate to launch that they could endanger a million dollar or so experiment ??
    NASA seems to be controlled by amateurs these days. People with all the credentials but no common sense.

  26. That’s nothing. JP aerospace puts balloons up to 30 km routinely and crashes them with cameras on the balloon running. http://www.jpaerospace.com/
    Oh and they’re designing airships that fly to the international space station.
    Watch this.

    Parachute? What parachute! No parachute needed.
    Their other videos are awesome.
    We need some of their airships over the poles getting video and temps from the polar ice.

  27. Do they have to file an environmental impact statement to launch one of these balloons? Can you imagine all the poor animals, insects and bacteria that probably suffocated when that balloon descended on them? Oh the humanity!

  28. Faster, cheaper, better.
    My favourite was the Genesis probe with the upside down accelerometer that failed to open its parachute.

  29. Zoltan Beldi says:
    April 29, 2010 at 6:41 pm
    It is very common in the Australian desert to have calm conditions on the ground at daybreak, only to see 35 knots or so at 200 ft elevation.
    ………..
    NASA seems to be controlled by amateurs these days. People with all the credentials but no common sense.

    They never considered the meaning of the common phrase, “trial balloon,” apparently.
    Incidentally, why not attach a long (500-foot), second-stage ground-tether to the balloon that wouldn’t be released until the balloon has ascended a bit and demonstrated that it is vertical to the gondola, instead of being blown somewhat sideways to it? Any practical, can-do American would have thought of this. It’s not rocket science.

  30. PS: This tether would be on a reel that would play out gradually, to prevent a sudden shock to the balloon when it got to the end of its rope. The tether would detach from the balloon by a remote command, or a pull on a trigger-release string.

  31. PPS: Or maybe just attach a 3-foot tether to the gondola and don’t release it until the gondola is pulling straight up, or nearly so.

  32. @wesley bruce
    Great video, but hang on – 30km up – does that not qualify for ‘reentry’ and why does he not burn up.
    Ahh, it must be because he has no horizontal (or vertical) velocity ta start with. Funny, I always assumed it was the potential energy (of elevation) that was being converted to heat during reentry of the space shuttle – but it must be the momentum before the reentry. Or am I wrong?

  33. DirkH says:
    April 29, 2010 at 9:32 pm
    Faster, cheaper, better.
    My favourite was the Genesis probe with the upside down accelerometer that failed to open its parachute.

    My favourite was the 1999 Mars Climate Orbiter that burned up due to Lockheed Martin using Imperial measurements and NASA, metric.
    Faster, cheaper, splat.

  34. I’m a bit annoyed that the much loved British piece of music Land Of Hope And Glory was used as backing music for this video.
    Couldn’t a much loved piece of American music have been used for this? Is is, after all, an American cock-up. The American National Anthem, for example.

  35. Can I just add, it was an astounding display of stupidity to not:
    A) Check the wind speed vs speed of ascent
    B) Avoid putting objects down wind

  36. Nice Video CodeTech! I’ve always wanted an RC plane with an actual camera and monitor so you could fly it first person. Pretty cool with just a cell phone!

  37. DirkH April 29, 2010 at 9:32 pm
    My favourite was the Genesis probe with the upside down accelerometer that failed to open its parachute.
    Keith Minto April 30, 2010 at 12:05 am
    My favourite was the 1999 Mars Climate Orbiter that burned up due to Lockheed Martin using Imperial measurements and NASA, metric.
    My favo(u)rite was the 2004 DART (Demonstration for Autonomous Rendezvous Technology), an orbital vehicle that was supposed to highlight NASA’s incredible navigational precision by autonomously docking, very gently, with an orbiting communications satellite.
    DART lived up to its name with an incredibly precise autonomous rendezvous at speeding-bullet velocity…

  38. I was “ground crew” for a bunch of hot air balloon launches some years back. We had no problem with knowing which way was “down wind” and parking everything “up wind”… but then again, we were just amateurs… (well, except that some of us had pilots licenses and one was an FAA Examiner rated.)
    Didn’t they think of a $100 tank of helium and some party balloons to check ‘winds aloft’? Heck, they could have probably gotten a load of free party balloons just by inviting the local clown to “observe”…
    I also found their response “typical”. Visitors will be banned. Don’t need any nasty witnesses or photographic records. I’d have been much happier with a statement of “Clearly visitors need to be positioned up wind and a bit further back; we also need to review our ‘winds aloft’ measurement and guidelines for launch.” But no. Just “get the witnesses out of here!”…

  39. To be fair, I finally saw the video on the ABC TV news, and the winds didn’t look at fault. They had a very heavy object, raised high on an inclined plane (the launcher) thus having great potential energy, then the restraints let go…
    And it never occurred to them to clear everything away from the back of the ramp in case the load let go?
    Good thing that was down in Australia. Here in the US that could have sparked a nasty OSHA investigation due to such a negligent attitude towards workplace safety. That was official on-the-clock work, not an amateur launch, the official safety person on site should’ve insisted the area was clear.
    Gee, guess this could mean NASA’s insurance rates are going up. I wonder who pays for that?

  40. E. M. Smith, We, hot air balloon pilots might take a wee bit of umbrage at being labelled ‘just amateurs’…:)
    But yes, very bad planning having all that equipment, vehicles etc downwind of the launch tower.
    Quite apart from the wind loading on the vehicle which, because it is ‘lighter than air’, it is easy to forget that there can be large masses and inertia involved.
    e.g. an average hot air balloon can easily mass 3.5-4 tons or more, so once it gets moving, you do not want to try and stop it, or get in it’s way.

  41. We watched this on our daily news where there was a video running for several minutes. The winds must have been aloft, as there is no movement in the grass at ground level. Perhaps they should have launched a small balloon to see what was up there.

  42. “Perhaps they should have launched a small balloon to see what was up there.”
    Numerous people have asked this. The question seems sincere and not just another snide remark, so I’ll answer it: They DO send up small balloons, many of them, before every launch. They are called ‘Pilot Balloons’ (often shortened to ‘Pieball’). These balloons are tracked from the ground (optically, in my day) by an instrument that calculates, records, and prints the wind direction and speed at intervals well above the top of the balloon during climbout. The printouts are preserved in case they are needed for a failure investigation.
    There is also a tethered balloon attached to the launch vehicle. The length of the tether is about equivalent to the height of the balloon. This balloon is released moments before launch.
    In addition to both of the above, a weather balloon is often launched the day of the mission, tracked from the ground, recovered, and the instrument package re-used.
    Professional meteorologists keep a close eye on all satellite and ground observations of weather before inflation and launch. The meteorologist are very experienced and good at what they do. (Predicting something that is inherently unpredicable.)
    This incident is a good lesson in why it is better to scrub a launch, even after the balloon is fully inflated, if there is any credible doubt about launch conditions, rather than launch if conditions suddenly change.

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