National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)

The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) is a United States federally funded research and development center devoted to service, research and education in the atmospheric and related sciences.

It was designed by a small group of innovative scientists, most of them university faculty members, as a creative response to major challenge that the United States faced in the years between the 1930s and late 1950s. Departments of Meteorology had been established at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Chicago, and other U.S. universities in the 1930s. Their goal was to investigate scientifically the physical principles that were thought to define the behavior of the atmosphere.

When World War II started, these departments grew rapidly as the military services sent weather officers to learn the fundamentals of meteorology. These officers' assignments ranged from daily weather forecasting to strategic planning for vast military operations. After the war, despite the impressive training programs, the field of atmospheric science lost ground with approximately a 90% of American meteorologists being employed by the federal government, mainly in weather forecasting rather than engaging in basic atmospheric research.

Thus, in 1956, the National Academy of Sciences convened a committee of distinguished scientists to investigate the state of meteorology. Noting the size and complexity of atmospheric problems and the inadequate resources for solving them, the committee took the decision to establish a national institute for atmospheric research.

In 1960, NCAR began operations in Boulder, Colorado, as a program of the National Science Foundation (NSF) managed by the nonprofit University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR).

On regard balloning, the first NCAR director Walt Orr Roberts founded a balloon engineering group in 1961, with Vincent Lally as its leader. In 1963, the group established a permanent ballooning facility near the local airport in Palestine, Texas, to take advantage of favorable prevailing winds and air traffic patterns. The first flight from the National Scientific Balloon Facility was made from the Palestine launch pad that same year, after several months of construction that produced a 6.5-acre paved launch area along with support facilities. Until 1987, the last year that NCAR operated the facility, a total of 1500 balloons were launched from Palestine and from several remote places in United States and all over the world.

Contemporaneously with the establishment of the dedicated facility, other balloon efforts were carried out by NCAR. In mid 1960's Vincent Lally and his team developed a kind of superpressure balloons under a project called Global Horizontal Sounding Technique, or GHOST. These balloons designed to circle Earth at various altitudes, collecting wind and temperature data over remote regions but as they couldn't be flown in the Northern Hemisphere because the Soviet Union at the time prohibited overflights, they were launched from New Zealand and Antarctica flying solely around the Southern Hemisphere.

More recently, in the first decade of the 21st century, U.S. and French researchers launched large, specialized balloons into the stratosphere to drop nearly 300 balloon-borne instrument packages over wide swaths of Africa and the Atlantic Ocean. The instruments, known as driftsondes, reached areas of the remote eastern tropical Atlantic, out of range for U.S. hurricane-hunter aircraft and an area where forecasters have little skill at predicting hurricane formation.

Also trough NCAR's High Altitude Observatory, the Center took part in the development of other balloon-borne experiments like the SUNRISE Telescope, devoted to obtain high resolution images of the Sun or the HIWIND instrument which is a Fabry-Perot interferometer specialy conceived for measure the daytime thermospheric winds. Both instruments performed succesful trans-atlantic flights from Sweden to Canada under stratospheric balloons in 2009 and 2011 respectivelly.

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