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The NASA experiment tests landing objects from the International Space Station

PHOTO COURTESY OF NEAR SPACE CORPORATION - On Thursday morning, crews from Near Space Corporation launched a helium balloon from the Madras Airport as an experiment for NASA.

Just before sunrise, at 6:05 a.m. Thursday, a helium balloon launched from the Madras Municipal Airport conducting an experiment for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Students at the University of Kentucky structured the experiment. A company from Tillamook, Near Space Corporation, is carrying out the experiment.

"We're testing a method to return small items from the International Space Station to earth," says Kevin Tucker of Near Space. Tucker says this method provides an alternative to orbital vehicles, like the Space Shuttle, which are only available once a month.

"We'll take their thing up really high and let go of it," explains Tucker. "We'll drop it, and it will come back down reentering the earth's atmosphere, fall freely for over a 100,000 feet, and then open a parachute and come to the ground."

Tucker expects the parachute to land within one mile of its target. Winds forced the crew to reschedule the launch twice this week. The original landing spot was near Mitchell. The change in launch date and time has changed the trajectory.

"We're above airspace now, so we're higher than airplanes go." Tucker says Near Space follows the balloon with a chase plane. "The chase plane will maintain visual contact during the descent phase, and they'll provide the voice communication to Federal Aviation Administration Seattle Center acting basically the way a pilot would in a standard aircraft."

Tucker says when the parachute drops, Near Space will recover the item dropped and all of the company's flight equipment.

PHOTO COURTESY OF NICK SNEAD - The helium balloon as seen Thursday morning from north Madras.

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