No, it is not what you think…

Launch of Cosmic Ray Energetics and Mass (CREAM) balloon near McMurdo Station. Credit: Mr. Gabe Garde, NASA Balloon Program Office, Wallops Island, Virginia
NASA and the National Science Foundation launched a scientific balloon on Monday, December 20, Eastern Standard time, to study the effects of cosmic rays on Earth. It was the first of five scientific balloons scheduled to launch from Antarctica in December.

The Cosmic Ray Energetics And Mass (CREAM VI) experiment was designed and built at the University of Maryland. CREAM is investigating high-energy cosmic-ray particles that originated from distant supernovae explosions in the Milky Way and reached Earth. Currently, CREAM VI is floating 126,000 ft above Antarctica with nominal science operations.

Two smaller, hand-launched space science payloads have already been launched, flown and successfully terminated. They carried the Balloon Array for Radiation-belt Relativistic Electron Losses (BARREL) experiment designed and constructed at Dartmouth College. BARREL will provide answers on how and where Earth’s Van Allen radiation belts, which produce the polar aurora, periodically interact with Earth’s upper atmosphere. These test flights will help scientists prepare for similar flight experiments scheduled for launch in 2013 and 2014.

Next in line will be an experiment from the University of Pennsylvania called the Balloon Borne Aperture Submillimeter Telescope (BLAST). This experiment will investigate how magnetic fields impede star formation in our galaxy. BLAST’s instrumentation and telescope will collect data to make the first high-resolution images of magnetically polarized dust in a number of nearby star forming regions.

A super-pressure balloon test flight also will be conducted. The 14-million-cubic-foot NASA balloon is the largest single-cell, fully-sealed, super-pressure structure ever flown. It is twice the size of a similar balloon flown over Antarctica for 54 days from December 2008 to February 2009. NASA’s goal is to eventually develop a 26-million cubic-foot super-pressure balloon, nearly the size of a football stadium.

NASA scientific balloons are composed of a lightweight polyethylene film, similar to sandwich wrap. Flying to altitudes of nearly 25 miles, the balloons carry payloads weighing up to 6,000 pounds.

During part of each Antarctic summer, from December to February, NASA and the National Science Foundation conduct a scientific balloon campaign. Two unique geophysical conditions above Antarctica make long-duration balloon flights circumnavigating the continent possible during the three-month period.

A nearly circular pattern of gentle east-to-west winds that lasts for a few weeks allows the recovery of a balloon from roughly the same geographic location from which it was launched, and permits a flight path that is almost entirely above land. Balloons are illuminated continuously because the sun never sets during the Antarctic summer. And balloons maintain a constant temperature and altitude, which increases and stabilizes observation times. By contrast, in other areas of the world, daily heating and cooling cycles change the volume of gas in the balloon and cause it to rise and fall, severely limiting flight times.

NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia manages the scientific balloon program for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Under NASA safety supervision, the launch operations are conducted by the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas, which is managed by the Physical Science Laboratory of New Mexico State University. The National Science Foundation manages the U.S. Antarctic Program and provides logistic support for all U.S. scientific operations in Antarctica.



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Mark Nutley
December 22, 2010 3:06 pm

Do they just make these names up so they can have a cool acronym?

December 22, 2010 3:18 pm

Is there a department of NASA solely devoted to stupid acronyms for science experiments?

December 22, 2010 3:28 pm

I think everyone working with a US agency has a secret obligation to come up with a cool sounding acronym.
For example, there is that WTF task force recently created by the CIA.

December 22, 2010 3:29 pm

For us, when an instrument was big we called the “Big Bertha” and if it was small we called it “Tiny Tim”.

December 22, 2010 3:33 pm

Yes Mark. They do. It is easier to get funding for an experiment that has an easy to remember name. — John M Reynolds

December 22, 2010 3:33 pm

best NASA acronym:
“C.O.L.B.E.R.T. by any other name
Colbert’s name on the new machine is a consolation prize to the host of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” after his fans won a NASA poll to name the newest space station module earlier this year. Voters chose “Colbert” for the module, but NASA opted for the more staid moniker “Tranquility,” reserving “Colbert” for the treadmill.
With bureaucratic flair, NASA managed to convert the name “Colbert” into a complex acronym: the device is officially titled the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill – C.O.L.B.E.R.T.

December 22, 2010 3:33 pm

Name it anything you want but call this solid empirical science. Something we need one whopping lot more of instead of these stupid models.

December 22, 2010 3:34 pm

John A says:
December 22, 2010 at 3:18 pm
“Is there a department of NASA solely devoted to stupid acronyms for science experiments?”
It’s not only NASA….
You surely heard about the relatively new Potsdam Institute of Advanced Studies for Sustainability?

December 22, 2010 3:35 pm

“BLAST it!” said NASA Administrators when being told its funding was to be cut, “there’s no CREAM left in the BARREL.
(Sorry but I couldn’t resist.)

Baa Humbug
December 22, 2010 3:35 pm

So they’ve rolled out the BARREL
(I’m just trying to be the half millionth)

Don B
December 22, 2010 3:35 pm

CERN, a French acronym for the European Organization for Nuclear Research based in Geneva (Conseil Europeen pour la Recherche Nucleaire) has a great name for their Galactic Cosmic Ray experiment – CLOUD. Cosmics Leaving OUtdoor Droplets.

Earle Williams
December 22, 2010 3:41 pm

So why is it I had a vision of Joe Namath? 😉
No special department is required for these goofy acronyms. You can bet though that one or more of the project team came up with at least ten alternatives. This was just the best one (ugh!)

R. de Haan
December 22, 2010 3:41 pm

I would really love to hear about the results of their project.

December 22, 2010 3:47 pm

John A says:
December 22, 2010 at 3:18 pm
“Is there a department of NASA solely devoted to stupid acronyms for science experiments?”
Yes, It’s the DOA. (Which is what programs with uncool acronyms are at budget time.)

December 22, 2010 3:52 pm

Apparently the AGU is terribly concerned about people without ‘solid understanding of the field of research in question’ having any input into science grant awards. See And oh yeah Phil Jones is an AGU fellow. ( I guess the disadvantages of democracy are all too apparent when you are living on other people’s money.

December 22, 2010 3:57 pm

This is neat. I like seeing our basic knowledge of the galaxy and solar system expanded.
That “sandwich wrapping” they refer to is no ordinary sandwich wrapping. They have had to develop some pretty stout materials to deal with the extremes of high altitude.

George E. Smith
December 22, 2010 4:15 pm

So just how do THEY know that these high energy Cosmic Rays; which evidently are mostly Protons, actually originated in a distant Super Nova Explosion in the Milky Way ?
I’m confident in them assuming that these reached the earth (atmosphere); but how the blazes could they know the origin. So what is the name of this source Super Nova ?
More baloney I think.

December 22, 2010 4:18 pm

The Department Of Acronyms { D.O.A. } is actually run by D.A.R.P.A. { Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency }
Their best work?
T.I.A. Total Information Awareness ( now changed to I.A.O. }

December 22, 2010 4:32 pm

Shouldn’t they be doing these experiments in the winter when the sun isn’t there to deter the cosmic rays?

December 22, 2010 4:33 pm

The next one will be named COW – Cosmic Overall Watcher. Just watch out for that patties descending 125K feet that carry a lot of inertia.

December 22, 2010 4:35 pm

Try these acronyms from the Mayor of London
The Mayor will work with the Sustainable Cities: Options for Responding to Climate cHange Impacts and Outcomes (SCORCHIO) and The Development of a Local Urban Climate Model and its Application to the Intelligent Development of Cities (LUCID) projects to improve our understanding of how climate change will affect summer temperatures in the future and to identify and prioritise areas of overheating risk and risk management options.

December 22, 2010 4:37 pm
December 22, 2010 4:38 pm

Stanford University will soon be launching BABEL, the ‘Blasted and Burnt Earth Lander’, to arrive in Durban S.A. later next year.
Not to be outdone, The CRU at UEA is planning its own effort, AGWHYPE, the ‘Apply Global Whitewash Hoist Your Petard Early’ mission, which will seek to wrest control from the sceptics on the forthcoming intercontinental cooling experience ICE.

Lady Life Grows
December 22, 2010 4:42 pm

They can’t have the acronym BLAST. That is the name of a very important genetic database maintained by the US government for PubMed, and is central now to all biological research.

December 22, 2010 4:47 pm

Seattle has the South Lake Union Trolley. someone has been selling tourist T-shirts online “Ride the S.L.U.T.”
those that made up the full name were too blind to agenda to pay attention to what the initials spelled, and red-faced, they immediately changed the name. Like that would happen. It’s stuck.

David Y
December 22, 2010 5:13 pm

The use of acronyms has been shown to reduce human breathing requirements associated with speaking, thereby minimizing CO2 emissions.
This was documented (and peer-reviewed) in a 2009 paper on Project AIROGG (Acronym-Induced-Reduction-Of-Greenhouse-Gasses). I’m surprised nobody’s mentioned the article Seth Borenstein did on it… /sarc

December 22, 2010 5:14 pm

“…but how the blazes could they know the origin. ”
They very scientifically cross-check the postmark on the proton cancellation against the return address.
But they’re in big trouble when supernovae upgrade to the Internet and use proxy servers and header spoofing.
(lessee if I hit 500K)

December 22, 2010 6:04 pm

You can have great fun with acronyms – Many many years ago I published some papers on a static multiprocessor scheduling algo I developed with a subsystem in it called the Platform Independent SubSystem … very good indicator at talks on who was taking notice and who wasn’t.
The world needs more cheeky acronyms.

Richard K
December 22, 2010 6:05 pm

I laughed so hard I fell out of my balloon chair. Who really is in charge here?

December 22, 2010 7:47 pm

Thanx Anthony. I am in awe of what NASA can still do.

Kevin Kilty
December 22, 2010 7:55 pm

George E. Smith says:
December 22, 2010 at 4:15 pm
So just how do THEY know that these high energy Cosmic Rays; which evidently are mostly Protons, actually originated in a distant Super Nova Explosion in the Milky Way ?
I’m confident in them assuming that these reached the earth (atmosphere); but how the blazes could they know the origin. So what is the name of this source Super Nova ?
More baloney I think.

Are you objecting to supernova as mechanism or Milky Way as location? Regarding the former: Process of elimination. What else has sufficient energy to accelerate protons to 10^20 eV? Location in Milky Way? I dunno. Maybe traveling from supernova in other galaxies limits the maximum energy of Cosmic Rays; so, very energetic ones above this limit must come from nearby. They come from all over though — not just one supernova.

Bob Shapiro
December 22, 2010 8:20 pm

Since the early conversation is about acronyms, here’s one I wrote several years. (Otherwise off topic.)
To: All Employees
Subject: Supply Requisition Policy
Several months ago a policy was instituted requiring administrative and other workers to obtain staples, pens (both blue and red), and other supplies through their supervisors. This policy was instituted to limit the number of employees permitted to annoy the Assistant Vice President’s secretary for supplies. Now, only supervisors may do this.
Since the existence of this policy has leaked out during the last few days, it has become necessary for the management team to evaluate this policy. As a result of that evaluation, the policy has been enhanced and will now be known as the Supply Deposit System (SDS). This radical SDS policy is necessary because of the wanton consumption of supplies engaged in by several members of our staff.
All Subject Workers in Need of Equipment (SWINE) will be required to submit an inventory of currently held supplies to the Office Equipment Operator (OEO) who will exercise final authority under this policy. Credits will be issued to you SWINE as determined from the Affected Item Deposit Schedule (AIDS). SWINE will further be required to submit a Business Article Requisition Form (BARF) to the Affected Supply Supervisor (ASS).
The requested item will be issued by the ASS provided the SWINE have sufficient deposit credits as determined by the OEO. In addition, a Like Supply Deposit (LSD) form may be used to obtain a red pen when a blue was previously obtained (or vice versa). However, the ASS will evaluate SWINE requisition rates and, if a case of wanton consumption is determined, a Like Item Penalty (LIP) form must be submitted, which will be attached to the appropriate personnel file. The ASS has been instructed to take LSD so long as you have not given him any LIP.
The importance of strict adherence to this policy cannot be stressed too heavily since the ASS will be held accountable for consumption to the OEO. This will be achieved through the filing of a Supply History of Interoffice Transactions (SHIT) form before the ASS’s allotted inventory of affected supplies can be replenished. When the OEO has authorized such replenishment, a Final Administrative Notification (FAN) will be issued. We expect the ASS to strictly enforce this policy since inventory will not be replenished until the SHIT hits the FAN.

December 22, 2010 8:45 pm

CREAM, eh!
These NASA guys have been watching too much Red Dwarf. They should be brought before “The Committee for the Liberation and Integration of Terrifying Organisms and their Rehabilitation Into Society,”, and no, not just for the lip service.

Bill Parsons
December 22, 2010 9:10 pm

George E. Smith says:
December 22, 2010 at 4:15 pm
So just how do THEY know that these high energy Cosmic Rays; which evidently are mostly Protons, actually originated in a distant Super Nova Explosion in the Milky Way ?

A wag… but perhaps direction? Assuming their direction can be deduced, cosmic rays from the Milky Way center (in Saggitarius) might be distinguishable from other particles from elsewhere.

Bill Parsons
December 22, 2010 9:12 pm

the Milky Way center (in Saggitarius)…

… or even in Sagittarius.

Bill Parsons
December 22, 2010 9:53 pm

By Richard Gray, Science Correspondent 8:30AM BST 18 Oct 2010
For the past ten years scientists have been planning and building an ambitious experiment to explain the mystery of what produces the cosmic rays and elusive particles known as neutrinos, which constantly pepper our planet.
They have buried thousands of sensors more than a mile below the surface of Antarctica’s ice cap to record fleeting flashes of blue light that are given off when these high energy particles and rays collide with atoms in the ice

December 22, 2010 10:14 pm

I hope it doesn’t crash on to the Free Air Carbon Experiment. We wouldn’t want CREAM all over the FACE.

December 22, 2010 11:46 pm

George E. Smith says
I’m confident in them assuming that these reached the earth (atmosphere); but how the blazes could they know the origin. So what is the name of this source Super Nova ?
More baloney I think.
Trained to salivate at the sound of a bell are we?
Maybe a response less reflexive would be useful. Like finding out how the experiment actually works.

December 23, 2010 12:24 am

George, they know that these Cosmic rays come from the Milky Way, because they’re made up of MOO-ONS!

Brian H
December 23, 2010 2:38 am

Determining direction is very non-trivial. Quite hard, in fact. Sometimes correlation with other detectors (X-ray, etc.) can help.

December 23, 2010 2:42 am

NASA doing science, I thought these days they where a PR and Propoganda machine for Hansen?

Jeroen B.
December 23, 2010 2:48 am

Dammit, you almost owe me a new monitor and keyboard for that tongue-in-cheek office memo!! I almost went C|N>K
Acronymology has to be a science that’s worthy of a few grants 🙂
But, cool experiment (pun semi-intended) and certainly interesting.

December 23, 2010 3:35 am

“Process of elimination. What else has sufficient energy to accelerate protons to 10^20 eV?”
No offense, but that’s exactly the same logic that got us “It must be CO2 warming the Earth because I can’t think of any other explaination!” Lack of knowlege of alternatives isn’t definitive proof of what remains, despite Sherlock Holme’s insistance. In Holme’s world, he knows every possibility so it works for him. In the real world there’s no end to what we don’t fully understand and Astrophysics is one branch thats more model than experimental science.
That said, yeah, likely to be supernovas (despite them basically being hypothetical… we’ve never actually been present in a solar system when one went up, just inferred it happening from the results and believing that we understand the physics of how it could happen.) The poster you were responding to no doubt just took exception to the certainty expressed in declaring the source when they can’t actually know that. Some dark matter reaction may be doing it too, the scientists just don’t realize it, for example.

Lance of BC
December 23, 2010 4:19 am

Bigger balloons with larger acronym science experiments to prove super nova particles control clouds, sounds pretty convoluted when only a short time ago NASA disregarded this idea. Sounds like another smokescreen to prove their failed understanding of how are our solar system works and to appease their sun and big bang theory models. Like climate models , just more twaddle for a failed model.
Could it not be that cosmic rays that offer nuclei to make clouds and climate here on earth are generated by fusion in the upper atmosphere of the Sun?
I mean you can believe super novas rays controlling our weather but not the star right next to us, that is remarkable.

Henry chance
December 23, 2010 5:00 am

All the achronyms are annoying.
My company just became an AFZ.
That stands for an achronym Free Zone.

December 23, 2010 5:24 am

John A says:
December 22, 2010 at 3:18 pm
Is there a department of NASA solely devoted to stupid acronyms for science experiments?
I think there must be. I believe they are about to launch a new agency for long term predictions of global warming, called World Oceanographic Long-range Forecast (WOLF).

Rob Potter
December 23, 2010 6:10 am

Given the few letters we have to make acronyms from and the ever-increasing number of things we wish to refer to and save breath as per Project AIROGG (thanks David Y), there is some scope for lots of fun acronym confusion out there.
I know many people who claim to be ex-CIA (mostly people who studied at the Culinary Institute of America) and I once developed a method for isolating DNA fragments that I wanted to refer to as an enhanced subtractive procedure – just so I could say I had cloned genes by ESP!
Thankfully, however, there is no special department to decide these things as it would take away from Friday afternoons/evenings in the local bar…..

bob alou
December 23, 2010 7:54 am

NOAA and NASA (NO-ASA) are cooperating on a new project Weather Understanding for Simple Slow Yankees. It is a follow-up to their Proportional Unified Star Survey International Education Study.
The ultimate goal of the projects is to Project Intelligent Main Principles to the uneducated masses.
To borrow from Jason Fox of FoxTrot fame –
M(2.71828)r^2(1/y)^-1 (x^2)^1/2(FORCE/ACCELERATION)
H2O H2) H2O

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