1. Learn about scientific balloons
When people think of NASA, they don’t usually think of balloons. But NASA has been using balloons to explore Earth and space since 1983! NASA launches 10-15 balloons a year from locations around the world for technology development, scientific research, and education purposes.
Balloon missions are cheaper than space missions and they also take less time to plan and develop than a spacecraft. Because of this, NASA can test out new technologies on balloon missions before sending the technology all the way to space.
NASA uses balloons in many different ways. In 2014, they used a balloon to test technology for landing on Mars.
In 2019, the first detection of an earthquake from a balloon was made using sensors floating about 16,000 feet (4.8 kilometers) high. In the future, NASA hopes to use balloons floating in Venus' atmosphere to detect quakes – something that can’t be done on Venus’ incredibly hot, high-pressure surface.
In 2023, NASA plans to launch a telescope aboard a balloon as part of the ASTHROS mission – short for Astrophysics Stratospheric Telescope for High Spectral Resolution Observations at Submillimeter-wavelengths. The ASTHROS balloon will spend three to four weeks floating about 130,000 feet (40,000 meters) above Antarctica observing star-forming regions of space as well as planets forming around newborn stars.
NASA is also studying the use of balloons to explore places like Mars, Venus, and Saturn's moon Titan. Balloon missions to these places could allow for measurements at different altitudes that other types of spacecraft can't reach.
About the image:
This illustration shows a balloon ascending into Earth's upper atmosphere while carrying a small scientific device. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab/Michael Lentz | + Expand image