Press Release

NASA’s Balloon Mission GUSTO Mapping the Space Between the Stars

Wed, 12/20/2023 - 14:52

Editor’s Note

GUSTO successfully launched from Antarctica on Dec. 31 at 7:30 p.m. local time (1:30 a.m. EST). The balloon is floating 128,000 feet above Earth’s surface. You can track its journey around the South Pole in real-time on NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility website.

GUSTO in the air
As the zero-pressure balloon that will carry GUSTO around the South Pole inflates, the GUSTO science payload hangs from a crane before its release to the sky. (Credit: NASA/Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility/Haydon Boyd)
GUSTO on crane

Scientists and engineers near McMurdo Station in Antarctica are preparing to release a NASA experiment to explore the universe by balloon.

Scheduled to launch no earlier than Dec. 21, the airborne telescope called GUSTO — the Galactic/Extragalactic ULDB Spectroscopic Terahertz Observatory — will peer between the stars from roughly 23 miles (37 kilometers) above Earth’s surface. There, the observatory, while suspended from a balloon the width of a football field, will spend at least 55 days examining a 100-square-degree area of the sky, using far-infrared detectors to help scientists make a 3D map of a large part of the Milky Way and determine the abundances of elements critical to life, including carbon, oxygen and nitrogen.

“With GUSTO, we’re really trying to trailblaze,” said Kieran Hegarty, program manager for GUSTO at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, which leveraged its more than two decades of experience building and flying balloon missions to design and build the project’s solar arrays and the gondola that will carry the telescope. “We want to continue to demonstrate that balloon investigations return compelling science.”