50 years ago, a hot air balloon flew around the world for science

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Scientists have recovered for the first time … a scientific payload of a balloon after a long two-world flight. The project is called Boomerang and is designed to demonstrate the feasibility of using balloons for long-term research.

Balloons occupy an important niche in science, providing tools for studying physics, atmospheric chemistry and astronomy, or for testing technologies for space missions. For example, data collected by balloons has helped reveal that the universe is geometrically flat, that the lower layers of the Earth’s atmosphere are rising due to climate change, and how wildfire smoke affects the ozone layer.

Earlier this year, the United States shot down several objects high above the country, one of which was allegedly a surveillance balloon from China. Others are likely “affiliated with private companies, recreational or research institutions that study weather or conduct other scientific research,” —said President Joe Biden on February 16 during a briefing. Some scientists worry about growing concerns about espionage, which could limit where high-altitude balloons fly — a challenge for ships that follow the wind.

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