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Balloon Fails, NASA Project Doesn’t

January 6, 1998

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Steve Fossett’s failure is not NASA’s loss.

Fossett’s balloon, which failed to circle the globe, carried the Aerobot Science Payload, a 7 1/2-pound prototype instrument package the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is testing for use on balloons that will drift around the atmospheres of Mars and Venus.

In concepts for such missions, a probe would plunge into the planet’s atmosphere, slow itself by parachute and inflate a balloon.

Fossett’s Solo Spirit balloon was launched Dec. 31 from St. Louis. Equipment problems forced him down Monday in southern Russia, just 7,000 miles into what he had hoped would be the first flight around the globe in a balloon.

Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientists said Fossett’s voyage amounted to a free ride for a valuable operational test _ problems and all. The device was designed, built and installed in just six weeks.

``We got a third the way around the world and we learned a lot about how to do that,″ said James A. Cutts, manager of JPL’s special projects office.

The Aerobot returned accurate data on position, balloon velocity, vertical wind velocity, temperature, and humidity, but there were problems with a pressure sensor and difficulties with a satellite communications link.

Data was transmitted from Fossett’s balloon to JPL via four satellites around the Earth.

For planets and moons with atmospheres, balloons are seen as a means to fill the observational gap between surface missions, like Mars Pathfinder, and orbiting satellites.

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