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Home > Early Days of Space Science > Balloon-Borne Telescope was Launched In 1971

Balloon-Borne Telescope was Launched In 1971

Mike Wright
MSFC Historian

(The following article is adapted from an article published in the Marshall Star on July 31, 1996)

Photo: Stratoscope II preparing for LaunchIn 1971, scientists from the Marshall Center launched an 8400-pound balloon-borne telescope from Redstone Army Airfield. They called it "Stratoscope II," an astronomical telescope designed to obtain sharper pictures of certain galaxies, nebulae, and the planet Saturn than were possible at the time.

The telescope was a four-ton, 36-inch aperture optical system capable of providing resolution of 0.1 second of arc-- equal to the ability to distinguish two objects 30 inches apart at a distance of 1,000 miles.

Launched on September 9, 1971, the telescope reached its operating altitude at about 82,800 feet . Controlled from a Marshall Center station on Green Mountain, it drifted westward at about 20 to 25 miles per hour and came down on a farm about seven miles southeast of Bald Knob, Arkansas.

Although he was not officially assigned to the Stratoscope II Project, Marshall's Dr. Thomas Parnell had an unusual opportunity to view the balloon travel across the mid-South. "I was flying a Naval Reserve A4 from Memphis at the time of the launch, and watched the balloon being inflated from the air. I had no part in the operations, just happened to be in the area."

Three primary scientific targets were photographed by the telescope; Galaxy M31 (commonly known as Andromeda), Galaxy M32, and Planetary Nebula NGC 7662.

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