NASA Launch Site Offers Tours




Photo courtesy of NASA

The Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas, is one of only a handful of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launch sites in the world where balloons as large as 400 feet in diameter conduct studies of the upper atmosphere and outer space.

Tours are available Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., from late May and going through August and by appointment throughout the year. Call 903.723.0271 to make reservations. Admission for a tour is free.

CSBF in Palestine has long been home to the scientific balloon program’s operational workforce. The balloon called "SuperBIT" is the top attraction here. The 1,540-pound payload will fly on a 29.47-million-cubic-foot (0.83 million-cubic-meter) scientific balloon; when fully inflated, the balloon is as large as a football stadium. As the balloon ascends to its operational float altitude of 126,000 feet, it may be visible from the ground, particularly at sunset and sunrise.

Anyone can track real-time operational status of the balloon mission by visiting http://www.csbf.nasa.gov/palestine/psn.htm.           

The CSBF was established in Boulder, Colorado in 1961 under the auspices of the National Science Foundation. The facility was moved to Palestine in 1963 and designated as the National Scientific Balloon Facility in January 1973. In 1982, sponsorship of the NSBF was transferred from the National Science Foundation to the NASA.

In the months following the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia in early 2003, the Palestine facility and surrounding community were instrumental in the debris recovery operations over East Texas. On February 1, 2006, the National Scientific Balloon Facility was renamed the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in memory of the lost crew.

In over 25 years of operation, the Palestine facility has launched more than 1,700 balloons for 35 universities, 23 other research agencies, and 33 foreign groups. During this span of years there has been a dramatic increase in sophistication of experiments and demands for service. 

The facility is at 1510 Farm to Market 3224, Palestine.

Some types of research for which balloons are used are:

  • Cosmic ray studies
  • Gamma ray and X-Ray astronomy
  • Optical and ultra-violet astronomy
  • Infrared astronomy
  • Atmospheric sciences
  • Magnetospherics
  • Micrometeorite particles
  • Cosmic microwave background studies

In addition to the Palestine operation, the CSBF conducts scientific ballooning operations from various remote sites in the U.S., several foreign countries and the continent of Antarctica, with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) that runs the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP). The Palestine facility is recognized on the international level as being one of the most advanced organizations of its type in the world.

[Information provided by NASA.]

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