This afternoon I gave my (fairly limited) input to the NASA board investigating our launch mishap. Fulfilling that last responsibility brings my balloon campaign here in Alice Springs to a close. Tomorrow I start my long-awaited journey home!
Obviously this was not the outcome I–we–were working so hard towards. Nevertheless, I believe the NCT team has reason to be very proud of our efforts. It was a huge challenge to turn around and fly again on a new continent less than a year after our New Mexico campaign. Ingenuity, perseverance, and effective teamwork were all crucial in overcoming the obstacles we encountered. On the way, we had help from many people who proved uniformly capable, friendly, and supportive. The instrument we rolled out to the launch pad two weeks ago was fully prepared to do excellent science.
I am saddened, though, by the reach of the media coverage of our launch failure. Videos of accidents have a huge visceral impact, so these images will be more viewed and remembered than those from the many successful launches CSBF conducts in the USA, Sweden, Australia, and Antarctica each year. The impression created–that NASA ballooning is unsafe or wasteful–could not be more false. For many types of astronomy, stratospheric balloons provide the lowest-cost, most efficient access to space, costing ten or a hundred times less than satellites which can take a decade longer to prepare. Balloon scientists build affordable telescopes which do cutting-edge science, enriching our understanding of the universe we live in. The CSBF personnel perform inherently challenging balloon launches with extraordinary capability, exquisite professionalism, and remarkable good humor.
I started this blog two years ago as a way to share what I was learning about stratospheric ballooning with my friends and family. After the roller coaster of emotions these campaigns have brought, I continue to be convinced of the compelling story presented by this remarkable scientific enterprise. It has been a privilege to share its drama, excitement, and culture with a broader audience.