Solo Balloonist's Round-The-World Flight To Carry JPL/NASA Payload

December 08, 1997

St. Louis, Dec. 8, 1997 -- A NASA instrument package that may one day study the atmospheres of Mars or Venus will fly aboard adventurer-businessman Steve Fossett's Solo Spirit balloon as he makes his second attempt to be the first person to fly around the world solo.

The prototype instrumentation is being provided by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and it will measure position, temperature, atmospheric pressure, humidity and vertical wind velocity. Washington University in St. Louis, mission control for Fossett's attempt, invited JPL to sponsor the scientific payload. Raymond E. Arvidson, Ph.D., professor and chair of earth and planetary sciences at Washington University, is science coordinator for the science payload.

Eventually, a version of the NASA prototype may fly in the atmosphere of Mars or Venus on a robotic balloon called an aerobot. Like Fossett's balloon, the aerobot would vary its altitude to steer through the atmosphere.

"This experiment will simulate a planetary mission with an aerobot payload mounted on the balloon," said Arvidson . "Observations to be made during Solo Spirit's flight offer an outstanding opportunity to educate the public on the characteristics and dynamics of the lower atmosphere."

"NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is actively developing a program to fly balloons in the atmospheres of other planets. We are very excited with this opportunity to test this payload in Earth's atmosphere and are looking forward to the data that could be applied to our future missions," said Jonathan Cameron, Ph.D., the payload technical manager at JPL.

NASA/JPL will receive raw data from the payload telemetry system through a commercial satellite system. These data will be converted into scientific measurements and relayed to Washington University where they will be posted on the Web site so the public can follow the flight.

The science payload will gather information from the troposphere, the lowest layer of Earth's atmosphere, during a continuous, two-week period as the balloon flies through mid-northern latitudes. Fossett's balloon is expected to fly at an average altitude of about 7,000 meters (24,000 feet )

A low fuel supply and other problems ended Fossett's earlier global attempt on Jan. 20, 1997. Nonetheless, he set a new balloon distance record at 16, 673.81 kilometers (10,360.61 miles).

Fossett again will launch from St. Louis's Busch Stadium when flying conditions are optimal. This winter's flight is expected to last 15 days. The launch window opens in mid-December and closes at the end of January 1998.

"This circumnavigation of the Earth by Solo Spirit will provide valuable experience to JPL in carrying out planetary aerobot missions," said Dr. James A. Cutts, manager of the JPL's Special Projects Office. "We will soon have the technological capability to carry out aerobot missions to circumnavigate both Mars and Venus that will collect unique scientific observations to complement the information obtained by orbiting spacecraft and surface vehicles."

After Fossett's flight, Washington University will publish all of the science data on NASA's Planetary Data System Geosciences Node, housed at Washington University and also accessed on the Internet.

To follow Fossett's flight visit: http://www.wustl.edu/solo. To learn more about JPL's aerobot program visit: http://robotic.jpl.nasa.gov/aerobot

The scientific payload is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, for NASA's Office of Mission to Planet Earth.

Washington University School of Medicine

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