NASA weather balloon crashes

Freedom Newspapers: Chelle Delaney John Winter inspects the snow drift-like remains of a NASA research balloon that descended northeast of San Jon Wednesday.

By Chelle Delaney: Freedom Newspapers

A NASA weather balloon the size of a skyscraper crashed Wednesday about 18 miles northeast of San Jon.

Launched from the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Fort Sumner, the nearly 500-foot-tall balloon made a whistling sound as it moved swiftly through the air and landed with a thump about a mile from his home, according John Winter.

“It looked like a giant inverted jellyfish,” said Winter, in his back yard recalling the event. “I’ve been in the military and seen weather balloons — 3- and 6-footers — but I never saw a 60-footer.”

Bill Stepp, operations manager of the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility, said the balloons are used to research in the area of astrophysics. It was the first of four balloon launches scheduled this year, he said.

The balloons, which weigh between 4,000 and 5,000 pounds, are inflated with helium that expands as they rise, Stepp said.

“They go to the upper outer limits of the Earth’s atmosphere and to the edge of space,” he said.

Its scientific instruments to record data were released and attached to an orange parachute.

The parachute had a sizable payload, said Stepp, between 6,000 and 7,000 pounds.

Columbia’s recovery team picked up the payload and brought in trailers to haul away the plastic.

The balloons can fly up to 26 miles high and stay there for up to two weeks, according to the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility Web site.