More than 200 curious locals crowded into a hangar at Wanaka Airport last Thursday to get a glimpse of Nasa’s super pressure balloon operation.
The “locals day” was held to give the public a chance to meet the scientists and other operations staff working on the programme, and to view the balloon payload for themselves.
Nasa office of communications associate chief Jeremy L. Eggers said the public response had been overwhelming and it was great to see so many interested in what Nasa was doing in Wanaka.
“We thought just a few [people] would trickle in but we had over 200 in the end,” he said.
“I think the public is taking a lot of pride in us being here.
“We feel obliged to explain what we are doing and to talk about this mission.”
Wanaka Airport operations manager Ralph Fegan said Nasa’s presence in the area was special as there were only seven sites in the world where the balloons were launched.
Wanaka received a lot of publicity though international interest in the balloons, he said.
Mr Fegan said having Nasa based at the airport had been beneficial not only for the region and its economy but also on a personal level for many airport staff and local people.
Because the balloon programme had been based in Wanaka for the past three years, a number of links and friendships had been made.
Earlier this year, Nasa committed to its Wanaka launch site for up to 10 years in a deal with the airport.
This year, the balloon will be carrying a high-energy cosmic ray particle astrophysics payload that will test a fluorescence detector and its supporting technologies.
The launch window for the balloon is scheduled for late March-early April.
No precise date could be given because the launch was subject to wind conditions.