PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICE
JET PROPULSION LABORATORY
CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
PASADENA, CALIF. 91109. TELEPHONE (818) 354-5011
Contact: Mary Hardin or Diane Ainsworth
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEDecember 9, 1997
NASA PAYLOAD TO FLY AROUND THE WORLD ON SOLO SPIRIT
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
The prototype instrumentation is being provided by NASA's
Jet Propulsion Laboratory to measure latitude, longitude and
elevation, temperature, atmospheric pressure, humidity and
vertical wind velocity. Washington University in St. Louis, MO,
which is mission control for Fossett's attempt, invited JPL to
fly the scientific payload.
"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 Dr. Jonathan M. Cameron,
payload team leader at JPL. Other JPL members of the team are
Aaron D. Bachelder, Robert V. Ivlev and David P. McGee.
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.
NASA/JPL will receive raw data from the payload telemetry
system through a commercial satellite system. Data will be
converted into scientific measurements and relayed to Washington
University, where the information will be made available to the
public via a web site.
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 the mid-
northern latitudes. Fossett's balloon is expected to fly at an
average altitude of about 7,000 meters (24,000 feet).
"This experiment will simulate a planetary mission with an
aerobot payload mounted on the balloon," said Dr. Raymond E.
Arvidson, professor and chair of Earth and Planetary Sciences at
Washington University and science coordinator for the payload.
"The 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."
A low fuel supply and other problems ended Fossett's earlier
solo flight attempt on Jan. 20, 1997. Nonetheless, he set a new
balloon distance record at 16,673.81 kilometers (10,360.61
Fossett will again launch from St. Louis' 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
After Fossett's flight, Washington University will publish
all of the science data on NASA's Planetary Data System
Geosciences Node, housed at the university and accessible through
To follow Fossett's flight, the public can visit
http://www.wustl.edu/solo. Information about JPL's aerobot
program is also available at http://robotic.jpl.nasa.gov/aerobot.
The scientific payload is managed by the Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology,
Pasadena, CA, for NASA's Office of Mission to Planet Earth,