Donna Beck of Twinsburg, Ohio, helps inflate a hot air balloon while participating in the annual 'Balloon Glow" as part of the Blossom Time festival in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, on Thursday, May 24. The balloons are inflated and tethered and then their burners fired in the darkness during the event.
Amy Sancetta / AP
Hot air balloons are seen illuminated in the darkness at the annual 'Balloon Glow" as part of the Blossom Time festival in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, May 24.
A 2-inch-long paper model of a 1960s-era Gemini capsule hangs from a string in front of a camera mounted on a balloon-borne platform at an altitude of more than 97,000 feet. Meanwhile, the moon hangs in the far background, sans string.
So what if it's only a paper spaceship? This year marks the 50th anniversary of Project Gemini's christening, and you could regard this small-scale re-creation of a Gemini space mission as a fitting tribute to the times.
The original 19-foot-long Gemini spacecraft was built to accommodate two astronauts for missions that would lay the groundwork for the Apollo missions to the moon. This 2-inch-long Gemini model was built by John's Paper Models and hung from a string during one of JP Aerospace's high-altitude balloon flights in Nevada's Black Rock Desert.
"The model was flown to 97,704 feet on balloon during last month's PongSat mission. 980 student experiments were also flown," John Powell, the founder of JP Aerospace, told me in an email. The California-based venture sends payloads up to the edge of space at the end of a helium-filled balloon, and recovers the payloads after the balloon breaks.
The payloads range from mini-experiments that can fit inside a pingpong ball — hence the name "PongSat" — to the occasional chair or cellphone. These flights don't come anywhere close to the internationally accepted 62-mile (100-kilometer) boundary of outer space, but they do rise high enough to provide exposure to cosmic rays, the near-vacuum of near space and other conditions that can put space hardware to a rigorous test. And as you can see here, the flights provide an awesome view as well.
JP Aerospace's "Away 66" mission rises. The tiny model of the Gemini capsule can be seen hanging from the left side of the balloon-borne platform.
Meanwhile, another near-space mission has successfully sent "Star Trek" captains and celebrities into space, at least in miniaturized, plasticized action-figure form. StarTrek.com provides a photo essay chronicling the results of this month's "Send Picard to Space" balloon mission, backed by more than $6,000 in Kickstarter contributions. "The captains and equipment spent two hours aloft, 90 minutes of that in the stratosphere, until the balloon popped and the payload parachuted safely back to Earth," StarTrek.com reported. Stay tuned for the encore presentation.
Members of a North Korea peace organization release balloons attached to boxes containing socks and leaflets to be flown over North Korea, at a unification park in the northern city of Paju near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the two Koreas on Dec. 24. The group sent winter socks slung under the gas-filled balloons across the border to North Korea, a place where one can exchange a pair of socks for a fair amount of food.
In the past, North Korea has threatened to retaliate against the balloon launches. The government in Seoul backed down this week from plans to light Christmas towers near the border after Pyongyang said it might strike at the South if they were lit.
The government in Seoul has not tried to stop the balloon launches since Kim's death, announced on Monday, although activists have been discouraged in the past to avoid provoking the North.
With a crowd of family and friends cheering him on, Bobby Bradley, 9, of Albuquerque launches his ultralight hot air balloon, Heavenly Dream, for his first solo flight near Tome on Saturday, June 4.
Greg Sorber / Albuquerque Journal via Zuma Press
Bobby Bradley, 9, of Albuquerque is all smiles when he landed his ultralight hot air balloon after taking a 26 minute solo flight near Tome on Saturday, June 4. Behind him in the tie-dyed shirts are his dad, Troy Bradley and mother, Tami Bradley.
The shuttle Endeavour leaves behind an arcing plume of exhaust in this picture, captured on Monday by the Senatobia-1 balloon from an altitude of 64,000 feet.
By Alan Boyle, Science Editor, NBC News
The hundreds of thousands of spectators who turned out to watch the shuttle Endeavour's final launch on Monday could see it for only a matter of seconds before the spaceship plowed through a cloud bank, but a camera-equipped balloon built by students captured plenty of pictures of Endeavour's ascent from 64,000 feet.
The balloon was sent up from Beverly Hills, Fla., hours in advance of Endeavour's launch, and took video with an array of high-definition digital cameras as it ascended. Even after the launch pictures were taken, Senatobia-1 continued to rise until it reached an altitude of 95,000 feet. Then the balloon popped and the payload parachuted back to Earth, its location tracked via GPS signals. Searchers found the payload stuck up in a tree in a nursery in Pierson, Fla., 130 miles from the launch site.
"This time we were sitting there waiting for it," Quest for Stars spokesman Bobby Russell told me today.
Senatobia-1 is named after the community in Mississippi that suggested "Endeavour" as the name for NASA's youngest shuttle, which was built as a shuttle fleet replacement after the 1986 Challenger tragedy. Yet another connection to Endeavour was included as part of the balloon payload: a list of signatures from students in Senatobia, wishing a speedy recovery to wounded U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the wife of Endeavour commander Mark Kelly.
A shuttle launch costs hundreds of millions of dollars, but Senatobia-1's launch cost much less. "For under five grand you could do basically what we did," Russell said.
He said additional videos and still imagery would be made available via the Quest for Stars website, Twitpic gallery, Facebook page and YouTube page this week. Here's a sample from today, showing the payload's freefall:
Quick video showing the balloon pop and cool shots of the curvature of the earth. Note the shuttle exhaust trail as the payload plummets to the earth.
Next up is a balloon launch from the San Diego area, scheduled for next week, and then comes the big summer project: construction of the "Strato-Shuttle," a balloon-borne unmanned aerial vehicle with a 5- to 6-foot wingspan. The idea is that the balloon rises up to an altitude of more than 120,000 feet, and then releases the UAV to fly back to earth under remote control. Russell is recruiting student interns and plans to test the system in Mojave, Calif. — the same locale where the pros are working on Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo and XCOR Aerospace's Lynx.
Character-themed hot air balloons take flight from an open field in Clarkfield, Pampanga province, north of Manila, Philippines, Feb. 10, 2011. The 16th Hot Air Balloon Festival kicked off with 27 participating teams, as part of efforts in tourism and aviation sports promotion in the Philippines.
Bullit Marquez / AP
Performers carry their props as hot air balloons dot the sky for the four-day 16th Hot Air Balloon festival at Clark Economic Zone at Clark Field, Pampanga province north of Manila, Philippines, Feb. 10, 2011.
Bullit Marquez / AP
A bird-costumed performer takes a break as a character-themed hot air balloon gets prepared to take off in background at the start of the four-day 16th Hot Air Balloon festival at Clark Economic Zone at Clark Field, Pampanga province north of Manila, Philippines Thursday Feb. 10, 2011.
Rolex Dela Pena / EPA
Character-themed hot air balloons take flight from an open field in Clarkfield, Pampanga province, north of Manila, Philippines, Feb. 10, 2011.
Rolex Dela Pena / EPA
A motor paragliding expert approaches a hot air balloon taking flight at an open field in Clarkfield, Pampanga province, north of Manila, Philippines, Feb. 10, 2011.
Rolex Dela Pena / EPA
A Filipino couple are silhouetted behind a hot air balloon being inflated at an open field in Clarkfield, Pampanga province, north of Manila, Philippines, Feb. 10, 2011.