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NASA releases report into balloon crash
NASA has released its findings from an investigation into the crash of a multi-million dollar balloon in Alice Springs earlier this year.

The organisation has identified "a flawed underlying assumption" about the safety of balloon launches as one of several key problems which led to the April incident, which almost killed several people watching the launch.

The space balloon was set to carry a gamma-ray telescope designed to look for distant galaxies from high in Earth's upper atmosphere.

But it broke free from the crane holding it during the launch.

"In the process of maneuvering the crane, the payload inadvertently broke free of the launch vehicle and was dragged by the wind-driven balloon through the airport fence and into an unoccupied vehicle that was owned by a public spectator," the report states.

"The spectator, who was photographing the launch attempt, was able to jump off the roof of his vehicle just prior to the collision.

"Other spectators were observed scrambling to avoid the payload."
Confusion

No one was injured but in the moments after the crash, the report notes how further incorrect assumptions were made.

"Realising that a vehicle was hit and spectators were involved, the campaign manager did attempt to call emergency response personnel, but became confused between the United States '911' emergency number and the Australian [000] emergency number, and was unable to make the call," it states.

The report determined weather conditions were acceptable for launch and that there were no technical problems.

But it listed 25 causes, including insufficient risk analysis, government oversight and public safety issues.

It says staff failed to conduct rigorous hazard analysis and did not do enough to ensure the public stayed in safe areas.

It also found the restraint pin was not sufficiently lubricated on the payload and a secondary release mechanism did not exist.

"There is no question in our minds that balloon launches are fragile processes," says Michael Weiss of NASA's Mishap Investigation Board.

"The mishap board reviewed a large volume of information about the accident and conducted numerous interviews with eyewitnesses.

"But in the course of our investigation, we found surprisingly few documented procedures for balloon launches.

"No one considered the launch phase to be a potential hazard."

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