For $89, a Piece of NASA's Multimillion-Dollar Failure

Debris from last week's multi-million dollar NASA balloon crash in Australia has found its way to a scrap dealer for $89, The Northern Territory News reported in its Saturday edition.

Metal Recyclers, a company in Alice Springs in central Australia, confirmed it had paid for pieces of the space age junk.

But scientists behind the ill-fated launch that wiped out two cars in Alice Springs last week denied millions of dollars worth of scientific equipment had been reduced to just $100 worth of scrap metal.

Dr Ravi Sood, an astrophysicist from the University of New South Wales who was overseeing the balloon launch, said there was no expensive debris that had been left behind in Alice Springs. "Everything has been collected and is being shipped off to the U.S.A.," he said. "The central detector was not damaged and the whole thing will be rebuilt, although it will take a while.

"Anything left in Alice Springs would have had to do with the outer insulation and support pieces."

The balloon was part of a research project by academics and students at the University of California, Berkeley, and several Taiwanese universities designed to study gamma rays in space from 25 miles above the Earth.

As the huge balloon filled with air, it ripped from its mooring and dragged across the desert, crashing into and upturning a parked four-wheel-drive vehicle and strewing debris across a wide area before coming to a halt.

No one was injured in the accident, which was captured on video by an Australian Broadcasting Corp. television film crew.