Giant space balloon crashes on launch

A multi-million-dollar space balloon crashed on takeoff this morning in Australia, hitting a car.

A strong gust of wind ripped the balloon, the size of a football field,  from its moorings and carried it about 500 meters. It narrowly missed a crowd of spectators and crashed into a four-wheel-drive vehicle, overturning it.

“We were sitting in our car and preparing to move it out of the way and we actually were within a foot of being wiped out,” one bystander told Sky News.

The balloon was believed to be carrying a $10 million telescope to be used for monitoring gamma rays. Part of a NASA-sponsored research project by the University of California and a group of Taiwanese universities, it was intended to operate at an altitude of 25 miles.

The payload was dragged across the ground for some distance, but is believed not to have been destroyed. The team is recovering what it can, and says it plans to try again with another balloon in May.

The director of the Balloon Launching Centre, Professor Ravi Sood, told ABC News the accident was a shock.

“Ballooning, that’s the way it happens on occasions, but it is very, very disappointing. Gut-wrenching actually,” he said.