NASA Research Balloon Makes Record-Breaking Flight

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A huge, unmanned NASA balloon carrying two tons of scientific gear floated near the edge of space for nearly 42 days and made three orbits around the South Pole, breaking flight records for duration and distance, NASA said on Friday. The balloon landed Thursday, 410 miles from its launch site at the McMurdo research station in Antarctica. The huge helium-filled balloon, constructed of a thin polyethylene envelope 0.0008 inches thick and 450 feet in diameter, had ascended to 125,000 feet. NASA hopes to eventually extend flights up to 100 days using the Ultra-Long Duration Balloon system, which uses a "superpressure pumpkin balloon" that was developed at the National Scientific Balloon Facility in Texas. The pumpkin-shaped balloon envelope is completely sealed and pressurized in order to maintain constant altitude night and day. The previous duration record was just under 32 days. The scientific equipment carried on the record flight collected data on cosmic rays.