Nuclear Compton Telescope Balloon Mishap

Balloon Mishap in the Outback

Nuclear Compton Telescope Balloon Mishap

The Balloon Program conducts frequent flights globally for NASA's scientific and technology development investigations, while also serving as an important training ground for tomorrow's scientists and engineers. NASA's scientific balloon activities date from the earliest days of the agency, with over 2,500 balloon missions conducted, and have enabled discoveries of our Earth, the Sun and the universe. The aborted launch of the Nuclear Compton Telescope from Alice Springs, Australia, in April of 2010 called into question the methods used for decades in conducting safe balloon launches. The Investigation team concluded the mishap stemmed from the failure of the launch mechanism, combined with insufficient risk planning, training and safety oversight. NASA program and safety leadership conducted an extensive evaluation of balloon safety processes following the mishap, developed a corrective action plan to address the recommendations from the mishap review, and was given approval to resume flights in December 2010. Since then, the Balloon Program has safely and successfully conducted balloon launches from Antarctica, Australia, Sweden and the United States. Many aspects leading to the mishap could have been prevented by better risk analysis, contingency planning, personnel training, government oversight and public safety accommodations. This mishap shows us the impact of safety procedures, training and communications on mission success.