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26 August, 2003

Balloon up's and down's

Today we readied the launch for a 2pm flight, that was the target window to coordinate with the other groups in Antarctica. The instrument is tested and re-tested until it is certain that it works. A red pilot balloon (pie ball) is set afloat on a 50 foot string to ascertain the wind direction; this is crucial during launch because ground winds are very unpredictable. The flight is ready to go at the right time. My PI gets extremely busy at launch because of the quick succession of events that must occur flawlessly. He gives me the order to inflate and I turn on the Helium gun. It sounds like a small jet engine from the gas rushing through the nozzle. The balloon inflates in less than a minute. Two people hold it down as the buoyant force and sudden winds make it feel like it is one hundred pounds of lift. Additionally, the cold air makes it difficult to work when you have to hold on to things.

After inflation the load line is attached to the balloon, this contains the parachute for recovery and the instrument. When the winds die down we let go of the balloon while at the same time run with the instrument beneath it until it lifts from our hands.

In a few seconds it has taken off beautifully in the sky. But then we see it begin to fall, and fall, and fall, right down on the sea ice by Scotts hut. The balloon had torn and the CN flight was cancelled. Fortunately we had a backup small balloon and we were able to launch the ozone sonde.

No one is allowed out on the sea ice without training because of the crevasses, so we find a qualified person who guides some of our team members to the recovery by using a Haaglund. This is a vehicle especially designed for ice travel.

Later the balloon is recovered and is readied for tomorrow's flight.

Pre-Launch, the pie ball is in the distance

Holding the balloon down.

The balloon in air with instrument below.

The balloon coming down in the distance.

Driving about town for supplies

Mid Morning with TransAntarctic mountains

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