Douglas Isbell Headquarters, Washington,DC (Phone: 202/358-1753) Mary Hardin/Diane Ainsworth Jet Propulsion Laboratory

, Pasadena, CA (Phone: 818/354-5011) Tony Fitzpatrick Washington University, St. Louis, MO (Phone: 314/935-5230) RELEASE: 97-280

December 8,1997

NASA PAYLOAD TO MONITOR ATMOSPHERE DURING SOLO SPIRIT BALLOON FLIGHT AROUND THE WORLD A NASA science instrument package that may one day study the atmosphere of Mars or Venus will fly aboard adventurer/businessman Steve Fossett's Solo Spirit balloon in December, as he makes his second attempt to be the first person to fly solo around the world. The prototype instrumentation is being provided by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, CA. The 7.5-pound package will measure the balloon's latitude, longitude and elevation, and the surrounding atmospheric temperature, pressure, humidity and vertical wind velocity. The scientific data and knowledge gained from the flight will be used by Earth scientists under the sponsorship of NASA's Office of Mission to Planet Earth enterprise. Scientists at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, the mission control center for Fossett's attempt, invited JPL to fly the scientific payload. "NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is actively developing a program to fly balloons in the atmospheres of other planets. We are very excited with this opportunity to test this payload in Earth's atmosphere, and are looking forward to data that could be applied to our future missions," said Dr. Jonathan M. Cameron, the payload team leader at JPL. The science payload will gather information from the troposphere, the lowest layer of Earth's atmosphere, during a

continuous, two-week period as the balloon flies through the mid-northern latitudes. Fossett's balloon is expected to fly at an average altitude of about 23,000 feet. JPL will receive raw data from the payload telemetry system through a commercial satellite. These data will be converted into scientific measurements and relayed to Washington University, where they will be posted on a Web site so the public can follow the flight. Eventually, a version of the NASA prototype may fly in the atmosphere of Mars or Venus, on a robotic balloon called an aerobot. Like Fossett's balloon, the aerobot would vary its altitude to steer through the atmosphere. "This experiment will simulate a planetary mission with an aerobot payload mounted on a balloon," said Dr. Raymond E. Arvidson, professor and chair of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Washington University, and the science coordinator for the payload. "In addition, the observations to be made during Solo Spirit's flight offer an outstanding opportunity to educate the public on the characteristics and dynamics of the lower atmosphere." A low fuel supply and other problems ended Fossett's earlier solo flight attempt on Jan. 20, 1997, although he set a new balloon distance record at 10,360 miles (16,700 kilometers.) Fossett will again launch from St. Louis's Busch Stadium when flying conditions are optimal. This winter's flight is expected to last 15 days. The launch window opens in midDecember and closes at the end of January 1998. "This circumnavigation of the Earth by Solar Spirit will provide valuable experience to JPL in carrying out planetary aerobot missions," said Dr. James A. Cutts, manager of JPL's special projects office. "We will soon have the technological capability to carry out aerobot missions to circumnavigate both Mars and Venus that will collect unique scientific observations to complement the information obtained by orbiting spacecraft and surface vehicles." After Fossett's flight, Washington University will publish all of the science data on NASA's Planetary Data

System Geosciences Node, housed at the university and available on the Internet. To follow Fossett's flight, visit: http://www.wustl.edu/solo/ To learn more about JPL's aerobot program, visit: http://robotics.jpl.nasa.gov/aerobot/ The scientific payload is managed by JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, for NASA's Office of Mission to Planet Earth, Washington, DC. This office directs a long-term science research program to study the Earth's land, air, oceans, ice and life as a total environmental system. -end-