UA scientists get NASA green light for high-altitude balloon mis - Tucson News Now

UA scientists get NASA green light for high-altitude balloon mission

(Source: Tucson News Now) (Source: Tucson News Now)
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Getting above it all on a budget.

Tucson scientists just won NASA approval of their idea for an airborne observatory, carried by balloon.

The scientists at the Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona call the mission GUSTO. That stands for the Galactic/Extragalactic ULDB Spectroscopic Terahertz Observatory.

NASA has decided the UA will lead the $40 million, international mission to send an unmanned, high-altitude balloon about 120,000 feet into the air at Antarctica.

Using the balloon-borne observatory, scientists will study the interstellar medium.

That's the dust and gas between the stars in our galaxy, the Milky Way, and in a neighboring galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud.

"We're trying to understand how stars and planets come to be, how often it happens, under what conditions within our galaxy, the Milky Way, it happens and also we're trying to understand how stars, planets, and people might come about in distant galaxies, even back to the beginning of the universe, said GUSTO Principal Investigator Dr. Christopher Walker.

Walker also is an astronomy professor at the UA and Steward Observatory. 

"What we take for granted for life on earth--heat, water, nutrients, organic chemistry--all those things that drive life on earth, we see existing elsewhere. So all the pieces are there, but we still haven't yet decisively found it. I think it's only a matter of time--maybe in our lifetimes--that we'll be able to find that missing piece of the puzzle to prove that life exists elsewhere," Walker said.

His team is building the instrument that will launch in NASA's balloon in December of 2021.

The balloon will remain in near space for up to 170 days. Walker and his team expect to start publishing the first results about six months after that.

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