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NASA high-altitude balloon experiment launches in Madras, ends near Prineville

(Update: Adding video, comments from Near Space Corp. president)

Goal is to eventually be able to drop items from the International Space Station safely to Earth

MADRAS, Ore. (KTVZ) -- In the early hours of Thursday morning, a NASA partner's critical space experiment was underway in Central Oregon.

A stratospheric scientific balloon successfully launched from the Madras Airport around 6 a.m.

The high-altitude balloon flew over 100,000 feet into the air, venturing above the Earth's atmosphere, traveling more than 22 miles high. 

"Well it launched , so that's good,” Kevin Tucker, president of Near Space Corporation of Tillamook, said with a chuckle.

The balloon carried a large test object that was dropped and fell back to the Earth from outside the atmosphere.

Tucker said this is an experiment to test drop accuracy, so the International Space Station can in the future successfully send items down to Earth in precise fashion.

"Well, this is just important science,” Tucker said. “It's ways to enhance the capabilities of the International Space Station and let them do more effective research there."

The experiment is a collaboration between Near Space, NASA's Flight Opportunities Program, and students at the University of Kentucky.

"Working with our team is outstanding -- we have really smart people,” Tucker said. "The sense of teamwork, the knowledge of how systems work is absolutely critical."

The launch was already pushed back the past two days due to high winds. Tucker said they have to factor everything in preparation. 

"There's a lot of things that can go wrong when you're working with systems like this and anything to do with aviation, and space,” Tucker explained.

After launch the 150-foot-tall balloon flew south toward Redmond, then east of Prineville.

Tucker confirmed the test object landed, but has not disclosed where exactly it touched down.

The experiment may have taken a lot of early mornings, intense research and hard work, but the kid in Tucker can't help but enjoy it.

"I have a lot of fun here," he said. "It's just great to see what's going on in the world of space. I really enjoy that." 

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Noah Chast

Noah Chast is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Noah here.

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