I want to talk to you about FAST-12, our first attempt at a neutrally buoyant high altitude weather balloon on August 4th, 2013. Despite it being blazing hot in Mesquite at 9 in the morning, the launch went off like a smooth limousine ride.
The Alicat flowmeter made the launch so smooth, in fact, that I could have eaten pork loin with some Grey Poupon without needing a napkin. And if that guy camping in the trailer nearby had rolled up and asked me if I had any neutral buoyancy, I would have answered:
But of course!
The balloon rose and blew right past Area 51, which as we just learned, was the secret landing site for the Irish rock band U2. Not exactly the same type of aliens we had envisioned this whole time, but a very close second, wouldn’t you say, Farnsworth?
We added 61.5 standard cubic feet of Hydrogen and a stick of Big Red chewing gum to our balloon. The balloon was not yet turgid when we let it go and it rose slowly at around 200 ft/min to start with. This slow ascent rate combined with the precise amount of lifting gas added (and the stick of chewing gum, of course) meant that we could float a little longer, hang high a little longer, stay aloft a little longer, longer with Big Red.
That Big Red freshness lasted right through it! After going “on and on,” the balloon reached a record height for us at 123,463 feet. The ascent rate slowed and the balloon hovered around that height for a full hour and a half, before bursting and dropping the payload near a group of very angry cows.They must have eaten some balloon-flavored bonkers. Stupid cows; they just couldn’t resist that super fruity flavor. It very nearly bonked them out.
Although only ever so slightly disappointed by the early burst, we did find ourselves feeling confident, confident, dry and secure.
So FAST team, put on your deodorant and raise your hands if you achieved neutral buoyancy!