I would have to say that recovering the balloon package is my favorite part of launching high altitude balloons. The whole process reminds me a bit of playing neighborhood baseball as a child. Inevitably, the ball would get hit into another neighbors yard or get caught in a tree or someplace inaccessible, and then a small adventure would ensue as we went about trying to get it back. As we get older, our sense of scale and focus changes, and we find less and less wonder in our usual, immediate surroundings. But every time we launch one of these balloons, eastern Colorado suddenly becomes my childhood neighborhood as I set out to search for the camera package with my friends. And every time, it is an adventure.
We do our best to select launch sites and wind conditions that will provide a safe trajectory away from heavily populated areas and airspace. And we label the camera package with our contact information and non-hazardous markings. But even with all that, things don’t always go to plan and we end up confronted with a situation like this!
It turned out that the balloon package landed in a horse corral and the shredded balloon covered the “Non” portion of the “Non-Hazardous” marking. Within 20 minutes of landing, two nice women noticed it and called the police due to the suspicious hazardous markings. Thanks to our trusty SPOT messenger, we made it there before Johnny-Law, and as Ricky Ricardo used to say, we had some esplainin’ to do. We happily shared the purpose of the mission and the joy that we witnessed when the balloon was launched in front of dozens of elementary and middle school children. We even dismantled the package to prove to the officer that we were on the up-and-up, which was sufficient for him to continue on his way. And we finally reviewed the photos with our new friends and promised that we would follow up with an email link to the photos.
A closer examination of the GPS log showed that the balloon reached a new personal record of 109,000 feet above sea level! Be sure to check out the GPS track file with geotagged photos and the photo album of the best photos.