A few pictures and notes from the final stages of the balloon campaign…
NCT landed upright on a steep hillside several hard miles from the nearest road, so CSBF’s normal recovery trucks were unable to reach it. Thankfully, CSBF was able to locate a heavy-lift helicopter to extract the gondola, so McBride, Daniel, and Zhong-Kai worked with CSBF to remove the heavy batteries and solar panels so the gondola could be lifted out. Daniel’s great pictures of the operation are here and here. The landing bent several bars on the gondola and squished CSBF’s communication electronics pretty badly, but our detectors and electronics made it through intact. Since the gondola landed upright, the detectors even stayed cold, as the liquid nitrogen didn’t leak out!
We launched on a Sunday and landed on Monday; due to the difficult recovery, NCT didn’t return to Ft. Sumner until Friday afternoon. By that point we were all itching to head home, so after some frenzied bubble-wrapping and boxing we left the hangar for good at 5:00 pm on Saturday.
Returning to Berkeley
Daniel and I drove the two Budget trucks back to Berkeley over Sunday to Tuesday. It was a pretty drive along 40, with lots of great Southwestern scenery and nostalgic Route 66 kitsch. Highlights included stops at the Petrified Forest and the Meteor Crater. Daniel got a flat tire and I saw a scary accident, but on the whole it was a smooth trip back.
With some lucky wind shifts, NCT was able to ride what could have been a short 8-hour flight into one of the longest flights ever launched from Ft. Sumner. We had some challenges with our pointing and power systems in flight, but problems are to be expected in any experimental program of this size. We got a lot of great data and have improvements in mind. Despite the difficult recovery, NCT came back in great shape, and we’re already preparing for the next flight.
On the whole, our time in New Mexico was a great success. Hard work, experience, and plenty of fortuity produced a nearly ideal outcome. Along the way, we learned some things about ballooning and plenty about ourselves, and hopefully soon we’ll dig into the data and learn a bit more about the universe. It’s good to be home, but I’m glad to have shared this experience with such talented colleagues.
We are tremendously grateful for the support of all of the CSBF personnel. Particular thanks are due to Bill Stepp, CSBF’s head of operations, and Frank Candelaria, the crew chief, for their calm and capable management. Speaking for myself, I was genuinely inspired by the professionalism, skill, and good humor exhibited by the CSBF personnel throughout the campaign.