Project HALO Status Report

Sky Launch 2, Attempt 1 -- Balloon Launch Mishap

Held on Saturday, June 20, 1998 on a NASA barge in the Gulf of Mexico.

The following text was taken, with permission, from an article by Ronnie Lajoie, HALO Logistics Officer, which was published in the July-August 1998 issue of the Southeastern Space Supporter, newsletter of HAL5.

Operation: Gondola Rescue

Like almost every aspect of the first attempt of the SL-2 rockoon mission, the recovery of the balloon gondola was no less an adventure than the mission itself.

Balloon Gondola Adventures at Sea

After the balloon popped, the gondola and the remains of the balloon fell back to Earth.  A parachute had been strategically located between the balloon and gondola so that it would automatically open upon descending.  Alas, live video from the gondola package showed that the parachute was not fully deployed.  Because of this, the descent of the balloon gondola was faster than planned and it splashed down harder than desired.

The entire balloon gondola system had a mass under 30 pounds.  The uplink avionics module (UAM) canister, a 12-inch diameter by 12-inch long cylinder, was sealed to provide the required buoyancy, about 50 pounds.  Thus the HALO team was not worried that it would sink -- unless the impact with the ocean broke open the canister.

Salt water and live electronics is a nasty combination that results in almost instant corrosion (i.e., rust).  If any salt water leaked into the canister, the over a $1,000 dollars worth of UAM electronics would be doomed unless they were flushed soon afterwards with pure distilled water.  The race was on.

The balloon gondola splashed down in the vicinity of the barge, but alas, the tug and barge combination was not very maneuverable.  Due to some poor radio communication, our hired recovery boat had been told to head back to shore.  Instead, the tug radioed a nearby “crewboat,” the C. D. White, which was able to recover the valuable property.  Unfortunately, the crewboat was on its way to the other side of the Louisiana delta, and then on to Texas.  How were we going to get the package?

Balloon Gondola Rescue Attempts

The company that owned both the tug and the crewboat was E. N. Bisso & Son.  Back on shore, Greg Allison called Bisso owner George Flannigan and tried to convince him of the urgency to bring the gondola to shore.  The owner told Greg that the earliest the crewboat would dock would be on Tuesday.  He agreed to ask Captain Malon Dawsey to have the gondola brought to shore.

It was then Sunday.  Tuesday was too late for the HALO team to sit and wait. Now we needed to find someone in New Orleans who could fetch the gondola from E. N. Bisso & Son, and ship it back to Huntsville.  Bob Spawn, a New Orleans HAM operator, was the most likely candidate.  Despite calls all week long, we could not reach Bob.

Balloon Gondola Recovery

On Friday, I began making plans to go to New Orleans to fetch the gondola.  The next morning, I reached member Bruce Cunningham, who owns a small airplane.  He agreed to fly us down to New Orleans.  Pop-up thunderstorms were all around the Gulf that day, and we had to dodge a few mean-looking clouds and endure some rough wind.

Meanwhile, Bill Brown finally reached Bob Spawn, who picked up the gondola just hours before Bruce and I landed in New Orleans.  We drove to Bob Spawn’s home and picked up the UAM canister, which looked okay.  Alas, Bill’s package was lost at sea.

Upon return to Huntsville, we quickly drove over to Gene Young’s home.  Gene quickly opened the canister.  Too late -- the insides looked like a scene from the wreck of the Titanic.  The canister had clearly gone underwater.  Every component was corroded.  DOA.  The UAM will have to be rebuilt.

Ad Astra per Ardua -- “To the Stars by Our Own Hands”

For more information on Project HALO, contact HALO Project Manager Yohon Lo at (256) 658-2043 or via E-Mail at:

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This file was last modified on Saturday, 15-Apr-2017 13:19:44 EDT