Religious scholars got involved in the quest for flight in the 17th
and 18th centuries. Francis Lana, a Jesuit priest, proposed a flying
boat lifted by vacuum balloons, also made out of copper. Bartolomeu
Laurenco de Gusmao, a Brazilian priest, made models of hot air balloons
that impressed the King of Portugal.
Since then, balloons have been used for fun, sport, competition, business and even war.
When Paris was surrounded by the occupying Prussian army in 1870-71, balloons were used to carry mail and dignitaries safely out of the city.
By 1978, successful Albuquerque businessmen Ben Abruzzo and Maxie Anderson had flown the first balloon across the Atlantic.
But the most impressive balloons today are those coming out of our
own Physical Science Laboratory.
It is basic research that expands our knowledge of the earth and the universe, said Danny Ball, site manager at NSBF. Research includes cosmic ray astronomy, high energy astrophysics, upper atmospheric research, solar physics, cosmic microwave background astronomy and infrared astronomy.
We enjoy about a 90 percent overall mission success rate, Ball said. One of the beauties of the program is that if a balloon or instrument fails, the payload can be recovered and flown again.
The payload is usually recovered, but there was one instance where it had the unfortunate luck of landing in Texas at night.
It landed in a ranchers corral, which he had closed up the night before, Ball said. The payload looked like the Lunar Lander and it landed upright in perfect condition. The aircraft crew could not see the impact because it was dark so they got a motel room, intending to go out and recover it the next day. The rancher comes out the next morning and sees a space ship sitting right in the middle of his locked corral. He got his shotgun and blasted holes in it.
It would appear that Texan and French country people have much in common.
Among the newest balloon technology and the future of the balloon program is the Ultra-Long Duration Balloon (ULDB). This is a pumpkin-shaped super-pressure balloon designed to dwell up to 100 days in near space. It can lift a payload of 6,000 pounds to about 110,000 feet.
A 100-day balloon mission can come close to doing the same science as a satellite experiment, at a small fraction of the cost, Ball said.
PSL continues to advance in balloon exploration and technology, and was recently awarded a $238.7 million contract to operate NASAs scientific balloon facilities and provide engineering support for the NASA Balloon Program.
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Gilbert Moore, working on a degree in chemical engineering at New Mexico
State University, was not yet twenty when he began working for the Physical
Science Laboratory (PSL) as a student grunt in 1947. PSL,
only a year old itself, operated from the basement of Kent Hall where
its main task was reducing telemetry data from the V-2 rocket tests
at White Sands Proving Ground.
Today, PSL has expanded from this early data reduction role to that
of scientific exploration, including a $2.1 million research project
on the V-2s distant cousinthe unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).
Dangerous could mean using pilotless planes in forest fire surveillance.
Because these flying robots dont have to account for the human factor, they can be as small as a mans hand or as large as the wingspan of a 747. The lack of a pilot, however, has been a drawback in getting FAA approval for the UAV to share civilian airspace with other aircraft.
Kathy Hansen, director of business development at PSL, says the latest research funding is aimed at helping the FAA develop a regulatory road map to guide both the FAA and the UAV industry in determining standards that would allow UAVs into civilian airspace. To test those parameters, PSL has permission to fly UAVs out of the Las Cruces International Airport.
This airspace includes desert, the mountains of the Black Range, farmlands, plus Caballo Reservoir, says Gutman. It is like having 300,000 square miles available for remote sensing research, he says. PSL is working to persuade the FAA to expand this airspace. The demand for UAVs from scientists, from the commercial arena and from NASA is clearly there, and disciplines as diverse as atmospheric sciences, ecology and surveillance will benefit from the expanded use of these versatile airborne laboratories.
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Space-grant scholarships totaling $100,000 are awarded annually at three New Mexico universities and two New Mexico community colleges. Programs can range from one as ambitious as sponsoring college students to conduct gravity experiments at NASAs Johnson Space Center, to one as simple as paying for a grade school field trip to the Very Large Array observatory near Socorro, N.M.
Hynes says participation in space-grant programs as well as applications for research and scholarships increase every year. We hope to have as good a run as the land-grant program, she says.
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