Put the Weather Balloon Back In The Box

Really? Sushi and beer "in space"? What's next?
Really? Sushi and beer "in space"? What's next?

What the hell is going on with this weather balloon craze? It seems that everything from beer to sushi is being sent “into space” these days. There’s only one problem… weather balloons don’t go into space!

Launching random crap into the stratosphere may be fun and give some companies a fleeting marketing opportunity, but please, quit it. Weather balloons should be used for… um, I dunno… high altitude research. And for high school/university students’ learning opportunities/science outreach. Oh, and Roswell conspiracy theories. But that’s it.

Just because you have a small camera with a gazillion megapixels, a credit card and a GPS tracker, the logic of buying a huge balloon and filling it with helium, strapping your camera to it and then running across the countryside to retrieve the wreckage seems silly. Sure, you get some nice video of cloud tops from an altitude of 20 miles, but you’re not the first to do this!

Having said all that, if you do feel compelled to create yet another YouTube video of a weather balloon launch, knock yourself out. But please, please, please don’t include the word “space” in the title, even the BBC gets confused (apparently, that weather balloon-launched Lego man went “into orbit”!). Space starts above 62 miles (known as the Kármán line). Weather balloons can make it to around 25 miles before popping. By no stretch of the imagination can balloons make it into “space.”

Also, weather balloons don’t take stuff on a “suborbital flight.” That’s about as “suborbital” as me taking a flight to Vegas.

Gripe over.

10 thoughts on “Put the Weather Balloon Back In The Box”

  1. I used to ridicule those ‘space’ balloon flights as well … until I attended a launch myself and felt the excitement of tracking it (with live video and position data and so on): this experience – http://skyweek.wordpress.com/2011/06/29/29-8-km-hohe-erreicht-verschollen-im-sauerland-und-dann-doch-ein-happy-end – *did* feel out of this world, and when contact was lost (frozen GPS?) and we all held our breath for the signal to come back, which it eventually did, this definitely had something of the ‘Apollo 13’ (well, at least the movie version) drama. Says a seasoned space reporter. So let us have our fun or better: join the party!

    1. Hey Daniel. I too was involved (on the periphery) with a weather balloon launch at university and it really was a ton of fun. In fact, it was that moment, when I was watching the balloon ascend to mindboggling altitudes, that I really understood the scale of our atmosphere. So I totally understand the outreach possibilities.

      I’m just getting bored with, a) the “let’s attach stuff to weather balloons craze” as if they are the first to think of the idea, and b) the mainstream media toting each marketing campaign as if anyone armed with a balloon and helium canister can “launch stuff into space” (or worse, “orbit”).

      But this is purely personal opinion, not a campaign to ban the use of weather balloons by the public 😉

      1. It’s mainly “the media’s” fault that some more stunt-like balloon flights (like the recent Canadian one) get much more coverage than others (like several in Italy in the StratoSpera series that carried sophisticated experiments) – the Canadian one was even covered in a major German(!) TV news program while similar German efforts were totally ignored. (But at least they explained that this is all far from space and also a popular hobby.) What bothers *me* most is that one certain Danish toymaker gets tons of free advertising via the space geek community which doesn’t even seem to notice it. Hey, what has this “colorful interlocking plastic bricks” producer (Wikipedia definition) done for *us* recently?

  2. This is the curmudgeon-liest piece I’ve seen from you in some time.

    But don’t forget, up is up, no matter how you get there.  And if it gets people excited about it, who am I to be a killjoy?

  3. Most of reality is out there. The pedestrian human lives and dies without a notion of what the Universe is. The amateurs are ‘turning’ up the ‘heat’ on Space. As long as governments, sober contractors and cautious engineers are at the ‘helm’…. the ceiling will be the roof of where we live and work. The average person doesn’t have the discretionary spending of a government or corporation to meet the final frontier. These flights ‘grab’ a piece of perspective, above the clouds and below and slower than orbit.
    You get enough people in a population working on this, things are about to change. Build a balloon lighter and stronger… how far vertically could it climb? And what if could accelerate under those later conditions? There is a big shade of grey that hasn’t been tried yet.
    The reason we have PC’s is because some very clever geeks could make a computer without an IBM factory dictating what the product should be.
    There is more to it than that; but people doing inventive things is how you get the ‘new stuff’!

  4. PLEASE don’t misunderstand me, I think the idea of sending a Natty Light to space (or a sushi roll, for that matter) is beyond ridiculous and they certainly didn’t get anywhere close to space, but isn’t this the kind of grassroots support that space exploration really needs?  Suddenly, if every asshat with a bud light, a camera, and a balloon is sending them into the upper atmosphere, then it won’t take long before that’s just not enough anymore.  How long before those same jagamoes try to do that, but they put their beer in the nose cone of a rocket and attempt a high altitude launch?  What’s next?  And so on, and so on.  And this isn’t a government agency or corporation, this is brewski-swilling Delta Iota Kappa pledge Chuck doing this on the weekends with his homies.

    Profoundly annoying?  Granted.  Encouraging?  I’d like to think so.

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