Sitting on the Fence: Launching a Balloon in the Outback

Abstract: On April 29, 2010, a NASA High Visibility, Type B Mishap occurred at the Alice Springs International Airport in Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia. During the launch attempt of the Nuclear Compton Telescope (NCT) scientific balloon payload, the payload inadvertently broke free of the launch vehicle and was dragged by the wind-driven balloon through the airport fence and into the privately owned vehicle of a spectator. While no injuries occurred, the payload suffered extensive damage and several spectators were nearly struck. NASA convened a Mishap Investigation Board (MIB) to investigate this event. The MIB collected data and evidence and, using NASA’s Root cause Analysis methodology, was able to determine to proximate, intermediate, and root causes. The Board’s investigation, findings and recommendations are discussed in this case study.

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This case has been approved for public release under the terms and conditions of the License Agreement associated therewith. The views expressed in this document do not reflect official policy or position of NASA or the United States Government. It was developed for the purpose of discussion and training by the Goddard Space Flight Center’s Office of the Chief Knowledge Officer with support from the NASA Academy of Program/Project and Engineering Leadership. This material is extracted from publicly available sources and personal interviews with key mission personnel. It is not a comprehensive account of the mission and should not be quoted as a primary source. Feedback may be sent to Dr. Edward Rogers, Chief Knowledge Officer, at or (301) 286-4467.