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NMSU praises employees who worked on long-term NASA balloon contract

The upcoming end to a long-term contract between New Mexico State University and NASA is a time to reflect on the important contributions of many dedicated employees throughout the term of the almost three-decade-long contract.

NASA recently announced that it has awarded the next high-altitude scientific balloon contract to Orbital Sciences Corp.

“The decision was based on a lower proposed and lower probable cost than the New Mexico State University Physical Science Laboratory proposal as was stated in the letter from NASA procurement,” said Steve Hottman, PSL director. “Orbital will begin to transition into its new contract responsibilities on Dec. 1 and will take over operation on Feb. 1, 2015.”

In support of NMSU’s role as manager and operator of NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas, NMSU employees have provided research, engineering and operational expertise for more than 2,000 launches in areas as diverse as New Mexico, Texas, Hawaii and Antarctica. During the NASA balloon contract, the NMSU team achieved outstanding performance reviews.

“We are very proud of the accomplishments of the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility team over the last nearly three decades under Danny Ball’s leadership in Palestine, Texas,” Hottman said. “We will be working with the CSBF staff to identify possible opportunities for them to consider within PSL and the NMSU system.”

Hottman cited some extraordinary highlights of the program over the years.

“A particularly impressive project took place earlier this year when our team played a key role in testing of the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator, a $150 million experiment developed to allow spacecraft to decelerate to a safe enough speed to land on Mars,” Hottman said. “Our team carried out a three-month-long mission at the Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii, where they supported the most technically challenging and spectacular balloon flight in the 50-year history of CSBF’s existence.”

Then, in September, the team accomplished another extraordinary feat. For the first time in the 27-year launch history in Fort Sumner, N.M., the CSBF team launched three balloon experiments on three consecutive days for NASA. The launches took flight Sept. 24-26.

“We are very proud of our accomplishments and our employees,” Hottman said. “We look forward to building on our successes and expertise for future contracts with NASA and other agencies.”