Flying near the edge of space, a NASA scientific balloon broke the flight
record for duration and distance. It soared for nearly 42 days, making three
orbits around the South Pole.

The record-breaking balloon, almost as large as one and one half football fields,
carried the Cosmic Ray Energetics And Mass (CREAM) experiment. CREAM is designed
to explore the supernova acceleration limit of cosmic rays, the relativistic gas
of protons, electrons and heavy nuclei arriving at Earth from outside the solar

In addition to gathering scientific data, the flight was a demonstration of the
capabilities of the NASA Ultra-Long Duration Balloon (ULDB) support system. The
ULDB is being developed to extend flights up to 100 days.

The pilot-less, helium-filled scientific balloon was launched from the National
Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station, Antarctica on Dec. 16, 2004. The balloon
traveled 41 days and 22 hours. It landed on January 27, 660 kilometers (410
miles) from McMurdo Station. Payload recovery operations are in progress.

The previous endurance record for a balloon flight was in December 2001 from
McMurdo. The flight orbited the South Pole twice over 31 days, 20 hours. The
CREAM mission extended the continuous science observation time over previous
balloon missions.

“We are excited with the duration of this flight, which allowed scientists to get
ample data to perform their studies,” said David Pierce, Chief of the Balloon
Program Office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center’s Wallops Flight Facility,
Wallops Island, Va. “We routinely have long duration balloons that float for up
to two weeks, but to have one flight last more than 41 days is very rewarding,”
he added.

Scientific balloons are made of thin polyethylene material, about the same
thickness as ordinary sandwich wrap. An enormous balloon was needed to hoist the
two-ton CREAM experiment to about 38,100 meters (125,000 feet). NASA’s balloon
expanded to a diameter of more than 137 meters (450 feet) and weighed 1,839
kilograms, (4,055 pounds).

“Balloon-borne detectors, flying at the top of the atmosphere, can identify
incoming particles before they are broken up in collisions with air nuclei,” said
Eun Suk Seo, the Principal Investigator for CREAM at the University of Maryland,
College Park, Md. “The science instrument, support systems, and operation scheme
were successfully tested throughout this record breaking flight. We are ready for
a ULDB flight,” Seo added.

“These state-of-the-art particle detectors were for the most part built in
university laboratories by students, young scientists and engineers”, said Dr. W.
Vernon Jones, Senior Scientist for Suborbital Research at NASA Headquarters.
“Hands-on training while conducting frontier research is a major strength of
using balloons for research,” he said.

Personnel from the National Scientific Balloon Facility (NSBF), Palestine, Texas
annually support approximately 25 NASA balloon flights from sites worldwide. They
conducted the launch, flight, and recovery operations of the CREAM balloon
mission. “We are really proud of our crew in Antarctica,” said Danny Ball, Site
Manager of the Texas facility. “Everyone at NSBF contributed to this success, but
the crew that spent Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years on the ice deserves
most of the credit for a great mission and yet another record flight,” he added.

The National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs provided Antarctica
ground and air operations support.

The CREAM experiment is collaboration among the University of Maryland, the
University of Chicago, Penn State University, universities and organizations in
Italy, Korea, France and Mexico. Wallops manages NASA’s Scientific Balloon
Program for the Science Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters.

For information about NASA’s Scientific Balloon Program on the Internet, visit:

For pictures and information on the CREAM mission on the Internet, visit: