Huge NASA bal­loon may be just start

Central Otago Mirror - - WANAKA NEWS -

Ex­cite­ment is mount­ing in Wanaka as NASA’s pro­posed bal­loon launch draws closer.

The launch of the plas­tic, ‘‘sta­dium-sized’’ helium bal­loon was an­nounced last year and it is be­ing touted as a po­ten­tially record-break­ing 54 day flight.

But it is just dawn­ing on many Wanaka peo­ple this is no or­di­nary hot air bal­loon.

Wanaka Air­port manager Ralph Fe­gan has been do­ing the rounds of air­port neigh­bours and com­mu­nity groups for weeks to ex­plain the project and the trans­port shut­down re­quired for public safety rea­sons.

To­mor­row evening, he hosts an­other public sem­i­nar at the Lake Wanaka Cen­tre.

The Wanaka Com­mu­nity Board re­cently watched a NASA video ex­plain­ing the bal­loon is about the size of the Louisiana Su­per Dome and should take two hours to reach the edge of space.

The plas­tic skin is about as thick as a sand­wich bag and there is a one in amil­lion prob­a­bil­ity of the pay­load fall­ing and strik­ing a per­son on the ground.

Re­as­sur­ing, pre­vi­ous launches of sim­i­lar bal­loons ‘‘have never sig­nif­i­cantly in­jured’’ amem­ber of the launch crew, the video ex­plained.

The el­e­gant, eas­ily dam­aged bal­loon is un­der­stood to be worth about $1.6 mil­lion and was trans­ported in a con­tainer, which is now at Wanaka Air­port. About 25 tech­ni­cians and sci­en­tists are also in Wanaka pre­par­ing for the launch.

A 100 tonne crane from Smiths in In­ver­cargill is on hand to as­sist the launch - it is un­der­stood such ma­chines com­monly have a $1000 hour charge out rate - and an early morn­ing tem­po­rary shut down of public roads is planned in a 3km ra­dius of the air­port.

The Wanaka and Lug­gate fire brigades will be help­ing with traf­fic con­trol and road clo­sures.

Fe­gan sug­gests the Tar­ras side of the Lug­gate Red Bridge, along Kane Rd, is a good view­ing spot for the public.

If the launch was suc­cess­ful and NASA en­joyed Wanaka - and it seemed they did be­cause they loved fish­ing - it could be the start of a long re­la­tion­ship, Fe­gan said.

‘‘Next year, we could have 65 peo­ple here for a few months.

‘‘ If this works out, there could be peo­ple com­ing here ev­ery year for about 10 years.’’

Asked by the board why NASA chose Wanaka, Fe­gan said he be­lieved the low pop­u­la­tion around the launch site, March cli­mate and winds, lo­ca­tion on the 45th par­al­lel and avail­able han­gar space were key points.

The sci­en­tists had re­searched the area thor­oughly and trawled through years of me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal in­for­ma­tion, he said.

NASA has spent at least $55,000 lay­ing fi­bre op­tic ca­ble at the air­port.

Coun­cil­lor Calum MacLeod said that in­vest­ment alone was a good re­turn for the ratepay­ers.

In­spec­tion: Wanaka Air­port op­er­a­tions manager Ralph Fe­gan gives NASA Columbia Sci­en­tific Bal­loon Fa­cil­ity op­er­a­tions manager Dwayne Orr, crew chief Don Roberts and lead tech­ni­cian Scott Hadley a tour of the air­port in Au­gust last year.

Get­ting ready: Ralph Fe­gan, Wanaka Air­port op­er­a­tions manager.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.