Balloon Technology Collection

The Balloon Technology Library and Database (now denominated Balloon Technology Collection) was created under NASA sponsorship to provide a single repository for scientific ballooning literature and data. The compilation effort was carried out by James Winker, an independent aviation and aerospace professional who is globally recognized as an expert in the field.

The collection includes grey and commercially published literature and is composed by technical reports, working papers, proceedings, and journal articles.

The first attempt of the balloon community to create such a repository took place in 1973 at Battelle Labs, under contract with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which produced a compilation in two volumes denominated Balloon Technology Database which consisted of some 275 reports. A year later the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratories assigned an employee, Catherine Rice, to index reports held within their library. The resulting Annotated Bibliography for Scientific Ballooning contained 850 citations but as occured with the previous effort it had poor search capabilities. In the early 1990s, Rice was tasked to expand the bibliography to include remaining library holdings and this more than doubled the original amount of titles. This late effort was the first one to be computerized adding a usable search capability. Althought both efforts were very valuable a major shortcoming was that the physical access in one place to all the documents was still impossible.

In late 1980s, the need for such a centralized repository arose in the mind of James Winker, while he was working at Raven Industries Inc. (major balloon manufacturer of the US) where he often discussed the topic in conversations with contractors, and in "back room" discussions at international conferences. Shortly after he retired in 1991 he made an outline of a project that would fulfill this need. This would lead to a request for proposal, a response, and eventually to a contract by NASA to start the project, which he did in November 1993.

During the compilation process Mr. Winker visited over 60 sites in his effort to find and select documents for the library. He started locally with his own collection, the Raven Industry library, private collections in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and the holdings of the Wallops Flight Facility. His search expanded to include the information repositories of the National Technical Information Services (NTIS), Defense Documentation Center (DDC), Association of Balloon and Airship Constructors (ABAC), and American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). He also explored organizations that use balloons currently or have used them in the past like research centers, manufactures, scientists, research sponsors, and operations centers. Even he evaluated the resources of libraries, museums, individuals, published works, and international resources as well.

After near 10 years of work, he identified and secured for the library over 4,300 documents that are related specifically to the construction of scientific balloons. The subject matter covered includes balloon theory, balloon physics, design, operations, performance, facilities, testing, materials, fabrication, quality control, failure analysis and history. Parallel to the process of search of documents, Winker along with librarians at Wallops, developed a database to index the entire collection adding full searching capabilities, something that was considered of paramount importance at the start of the effort.

Actually, the documents are stored physically in a separate sector at the Wallops Island Technical Library. A portion of the documents were scanned and are freely available throught the search engine accesible via the Collection's website (see link below). NASA researchers can gain access to the documents by either using the library at Wallops or having the documents scanned and emailed to them. Researchers outside of NASA can make requests from Wallops with some restrictions placed on their access: some of the documents are copyrighted so they can't be freely shared while some others are restricted only to employees of government agencies only.

The current challenge for the administrators is to provide an efficient access to the documents, while restricting that access according to the category of the requester.

Related Entries

External Links

Balloon Technology Collection - at NASA's Goddard Library
A Balloon Technology Archive Is Established - article on the project by James Winker
Progress toward a balloon technology library and database - article on the project by James Winker
Wallops Island Balloon Technology: Can't See the Repository for the Documents - article by Nikkia Anderson and Andrea Japzon