Outback Australia gets surprise NASA balloon landing

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Outback Australia gets surprise NASA balloon landing
NASA's super pressure balloon.

Flight terminated after a third of planned trip.

Australians living east of the Sturt National Park on the border of NSW and Queensland were yesterday greeted by the surprise landing of NASA's super pressure balloon.

The US national space agency was forced to terminate the flight at around lunchtime yesterday after detecting a developing leak.

The balloon was launched late last month from the Wanaka Airport in New Zealand. It was originally planned to fly for 100 days.

NASA said it was pleased that the balloon had managed to make it to 32 days in the air, achieving one of its goals - to maintain a constant altitude of 110,000 feet - during that time.

“This balloon accomplished what no other heavy-lift balloon has done by maintaining a constant float altitude for a long duration in the harsh conditions of the Earth’s stratosphere,” NASA balloon program office chief Debbie Fairbrother said in a statement.

“While we hoped for more days at float, we exceeded our pre-established minimum success criteria of 10 days by threefold in the balloon’s most demanding test yet.”

The pumpkin-shaped balloon is built from 22 acres of material filled with helium and is as large as a football stadium when inflated.

In its most recent flight it carried 2267 kilos of instruments, and it is designed to be able to carry up to 3628 kilos.

NASA said it had dispatched a team to collect the balloon and investigate the cause of the leak in order to apply learnings to future missions.

A number of Victorian residents had initially mistaken the balloon for a UFO (unidentified flying object), according to the Victorian Storm Chasers Facebook page.

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