Missing NASA balloon parts found by Wānaka fisherman

by Lauren Pattemore - Apr 18, 2023

It's not everyday a fishing trip helps NASA retrieve a lost tow balloon, but this was the reality for Luggate resident Matt Kay on Sunday.

Matt Kay retrieved the balloon from the pile of sticks and left in on the bank (Image supplied).

NASA has been searching for the tow balloon since the successful launch of its super pressure balloon on Sunday morning.

Meanwhile, Mr Kay was out on a boat with his mates fishing when they spotted the tow balloon up in the sky above Lake Dunstan. 

He says the balloon “touched down” in the water around 11.45am, and drifted down the lake before it became caught in a pile of sticks and logs.

Mr Kay says he was  “unsure what to do with it”, and decided to remove it from the water, roll it up, and place it on the bank. He contacted Crux on Sunday with the news. 

The balloon felt only slightly thicker than the cling wrap you cover your sandwiches with, he says.

When Crux contacted NASA for comment today (Tuesday, April 18), they were unaware of the tow balloon's whereabouts and were desperately trying to find it.  

After hearing the news this afternoon, a NASA contractor immediately went out to track it down, heading to the location provided to Crux by Mr Kay.

The tow balloon is the smaller balloon above the super pressure balloon - during initial inflation it helps hold the bigger balloon in place.

Just after 3pm, the NASA contractor confirmed that the balloon had been retrieved, still in the same spot Mr Kay had left it two days prior - approximately halfway between Lions Lookout and the Bendigo freedom camping spot on Lake Dunstan.

It's now safely back in NASA's hands. 

NASA spokesperson Jeremy Eggers says that once the balloon is released, they maintain a visual track on the tow balloon and then seek to retrieve it.

However things did not go to plan for this particular mission, and NASA says they "did not locate the tow balloon in the area we predicted".

"I'm happy to report that with the information you (Crux) passed on to us from the community, we have now recovered the tow balloon," Mr Eggers says.

Mr Eggers says this balloon posed no threat to public safety.

This missing balloon is part of NASA's launch mission that occurred on Sunday, when a super pressure balloon was successfully launched from Wānaka airport.

The super pressure balloon is the size of Forsyth Barr Stadium when fully inflated, and it is being used by NASA in their research into galaxy dark matter, and for testing of the balloon's technology.

Astronomer on the project Richard Massey says with this mission launch they will map the stars and galaxies.

The balloon retrieved by Mr Kay was not the super pressure balloon itself but, instead, the smaller tow balloon that rests on top of the larger balloon to help hold the larger balloon in place as it fills with helium.  

Once the superpressure balloon reaches a certain point of inflation, the tow balloon is released. 

Keen to know where NASA's giant balloon goes? You can track it online here. 



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