Flying high over Antarctica, NASA’s long duration balloon has broken the record for longest flight by a balloon of its size.

The record-breaking balloon, carrying the Super Trans-Iron Galactic Element Recorder (Super-TIGER) experiment, has been afloat for 46 days and is on its third orbit around the South Pole, NASA said.

The Super-TIGER flight shattered the previous record of 41 days and 22 hours, previously set in 2005. The Super-TIGER team plans to fly for another 8-10 days to have it fly closer to McMurdo Station before terminating the flight and recovering the experiment.

“This is an outstanding achievement for NASA’s Astrophysics balloon team,” said John Grunsfeld, Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate.

“Keeping these huge balloons aloft for such long periods lets us do forefront science that would be difficult to do otherwise,” said Grunsfeld in a statement.

Super-TIGER is flying a new instrument for measuring the rare heavy elements among the flux of high-energy cosmic rays bombarding Earth from elsewhere in our Milky Way Galaxy.

The information retrieved from this mission will be used to develop an understanding where these energetic atomic nuclei are produced and how they achieve their very high energies.

Super-TIGER launched on December 8, 2012, from the long duration balloon site near McMurdo Station, Antarctica. The massive 39-million cubic foot scientific balloon carries the 6,000 pound Super-TIGER payload — equivalent to a large sports utility vehicle — at a float altitude of 127,000 feet, more than four times the altitude of most commercial airliners.

Size-wise, more than 200 blimps could fit inside the balloon.

“It has taken eight years, but we are so excited about breaking the long duration balloon record. In addition, it looks like the Super-Tiger flight, which is still collecting science data, will raise the bar by a week or two,” said Debora Fairbrother, Chief of the Scientific Balloon Programme.

(This article was published on January 26, 2013)
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