back to article 1,000 cats await stadium-sized sandwich bag launch

The fourth launch of NASA's high-altitude, heavy-lift super pressure balloon (SPB) is on hold while scientists wait for a break in the weather over Wanaka Airport, on New Zealand's South Island. The SPB is designed for "ultra-long-duration flight of up to 100 days at mid-latitudes", at a more-or-less constant float altitude of …

  1. leon clarke

    And the obvious question is...

    how many sandwiches can you fit in a cubic meter?

    If we knew that, we could easily calculate how many football stadiums full of people could share one sandwich bag.

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: And the obvious question is...

      It depends if you cut the crusts off.

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: And the obvious question is...

        > It depends if you cut the crusts off.

        And what the filling is. Something like salami doesn't appreciably add much to the mass or thickness of the sandwich.

        Fried egg, sausage and bacon [1] on the other hand..

        [1] In sufficient quantities. I've now auto-baconlusted. Damn.

        1. leon clarke

          Re: And the obvious question is...

          This is the Register.

          We obviously want Fried Egg, Sausage and Bacon sandwiches.

    2. Stoneshop

      Re: And the obvious question is...

      Assuming a spherical cow of uniform density who happens to have nothing to do with this calculation, and also assuming a slice of bread being 10x10x1 cm^3, with an average filling thickness of 5mm (less for a slice of cheese or ham, more for compound fillings like fried eggs with bacon or tuna with boiled egg), and each slice/filling/slice entity being cut diagonally to yield two sandwiches, you get 8 sandwiches per liter, or 4.619 per Bulgarian Airbag. With the size of the 1 kilocat lifter being 206.3629 Olympic swimming pools, I get a total of 4131992 sandwiches. The question now is: how hungry are these football-stadium visitors? Would they be content with two sandwiches each, or is the distribution of such a huge number of sandwiches to a somewhat less huge but still huge number of sandwich-eaters going to take long enough that they will want four or five?

  2. JimmyPage Silver badge

    Wanaka Airport

    Anyone else have to read that twice ?

    1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      Re: Wanaka Airport

      For people flying solo?

  3. Ben Bonsall

    Can they change the name? When I see SPB you keep getting my hopes up that you are getting somewhere with the FAA. :(


    Regarding the weight, the SPB plus payload tips the scales at 4,500kg

    made me do a double take.

    1. IglooDude

      I assumed the SPB was referring to the Reg version as well, once they started talking about converted units and especially cricket pitches.

      Now Wikipedia will have to have an SPB disambiguation page?

    2. choleric

      Yes indeed. Have NASA got no respect? Don't they know that those letters belong to an organisation with an unimpeachable track record in (nearly) space flight and playmonautical derring do? I should think they might apologise and have a word with the FAA by way of making things right again.

      Super-Pressure Balloon, what a waste of three good letters anyway. Next they'll be claiming the rights to Nasaly Aspirated Snot-like Accelerant, or some such tissue fodder.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    10 cats = 1 toilet

    So, that's official then, from NASA?

    I shall remember that when I am in a strange neighbourhood and find myself needing to answer the call of nature. I will round up ten cats and all will be well.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      By the time you're done rounding up 10 cats, you'll be almost retired. Despite indications to the contrary, they don't come in herds.

      So yeah, all will be well.

      I will remember the "kilocat mission". I like that.

      1. Ben Bonsall

        Surely everyone's heard of cats?

      2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        > By the time you're done rounding up 10 cats, you'll be almost retired.

        Nah. Rounding up cats is easy - you just have to have something that they really, really want. Drugs are good (catnip etc - except for the odd[1] cat that Doesn't Do Drugs). Fresh fish also good [2].

        Or the opportunity for the to thump the New Dog very hard and repeatedly..

        [1] Lets just say that I'm pretty much an expert in Odd Cats. Most of the ones I've given homes to seem to be in that category. We used to have a normal one but then she got run over, lost her tail and became Metal Cat. And gained a few personality kinks.

        [2] Why is it that cats love fresh fish? It's not like they would be able to get much of them in the wild? Especially not from a previous neighbours prize goldfish pond. No - that must have been the heron. Honest!

        1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

          Is that Metal Cat or Mental Cat?

          (Either way, never a boring minute I guess.)

  5. harmjschoonhoven

    You can not lift them all

    NASA's 1 kcat balloon consumes ½ million m³ He. The global He production is only 175 million m³. The estimated global cat population is 200000 kcat.

  6. Peter Simpson 1

    Even NASA has to wait for the FAA?

    ...or maybe, the reason for the delay is the initialism, "SPB" -- FAA saw that and chucked the folder back in the files for another 6 months.

  7. glen waverley

    cross cultural units?

    Struck me as odd that NASA offer "nearly the length of six cricket pitches".

    Have they correctly converted that from baseball diamonds? NASA have form with conversions from one system of units to another

  8. Sgt_Oddball

    Fat cats...

    A quick googling gives the average cat weight as 3.6 - 4.5kgs so they've erred on the of caution and gone for the fattest of average moggies (though I've no idea if that's mean, mode etc etc....).

    Still... I wonder if the real SPB could join forces with NASA's SPB to get LOHAN lifted on this mighty orb at some point?

    On a side note, no mention of how fast they think this thing'll fly. We need to know it's SiV* velocity ratio.

    (*Sheep in Vacuum)

    1. D@v3

      Re: Fat cats...

      I was going to enquire about the standard unit 'cat'

      Are we talking Tabbies, or Tigers?

      1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

        Re: Fat cats...

        Tigers would be so much cooler. IMO, cuter too.

        1. Sgt_Oddball

          Re: Fat cats...

          Welp my parents last cat managed 4kgs at its heaviest before old age go him (still a surprise be lasted so long since he was a farm cat and would go for anything that looked at him funny. Herons, koi carp, rats bigger than himself.... You name it)

          Their current moggy looks 5kgs but is quite the feather weight at 3kg (dry weight though, no idea how heavy when wet. I like my arms too much for that experiment)

    2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: Fat cats...

      > the average cat weight as 3.6 - 4.5kgs

      I wish! I think our lightest one is about 4kg. Although the vet does keep muttering that the Grand Evil needs to slim down a bit - at 7kg she's a little on the porky side.

      Although the ginger is 6.5kg, on him it's not mostly adipose.

  9. Kubla Cant

    Odd to choose "the wingspan of a 747" for the height. If a 747 has its wings vertical, then there's probably something seriously wrong. Couldn't they find anything 68.96m high that's naturally vertical?

    And can you imagine the sound 10 grand pianos would make when dropped from a height of 33.5km?

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Francis Boyle

      "There's probably something seriously wrong"

      Either that or you're doing something really fun.

      1. Peter Simpson 1

        Re: "There's probably something seriously wrong"

        Either that or you're doing something really fun.

      2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

        Re: "There's probably something seriously wrong"

        Either way you'd probably void the warranty.

  10. Alan Brown Silver badge

    "Can you imagine the sound 10 grand pianos would make when dropped from a height of 33.5km?"

    I'd imagine them to be almost silent until the last few cm.

    1. Mephistro

      On the other hand...

      ... a thousand cats would make quite a rumpus on their way down.

      1. Darryl

        Re: On the other hand...

        But would they all land on their feet?

        1. Brian Miller

          Re: On the other hand...

          Well, according to a study, they would be landing on something feet-first, and probably survive the fall. Cats twist around, and then flatten out. Above a certain height, they can slow themselves down enough so that their terminal velocity is actually survivable.

          The real question is, will they be laser-guided?

        2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Re: On the other hand...

          > But would they all land on their feet?

          Depends where the buttered toast was tied.

    2. Cynic_999


      Can you imagine the sound 10 grand pianos would make when dropped from a height of 33.5km?


      I can confirm that dropping a piano down a deep shaft results in a sound of A flat minor

      1. Bill Gray

        Dropping a piano on an army base results in a sound of A flat major.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I wouldn't put any cat nearby wires and a very thin balloon material...

    ... the mission wouldn't last very long.

  12. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

    I think that the container for the cats would weigh at least possibly around 500Kg for a decent container. Then of course you need cardboard boxes for the cats to climb in. That would all decrease either the number or the size of the cats. I would propose that we keep the number of felids at 1000, but respecify that they be kittens, not cats. A small 12 week old kitten might weigh 1Kg, so theres plenty of space for cardboard boxes, cat toys water and some kibbles. And the advantage of using kittens is that the cuteness level increases. Normally cuteness is measured in MilliKittens (so a baby hedgehog might be 400 millikittens), so presumably the cuteness will average out at around 1 Kilokitten.

    Whats the point of this again? How many pangolins could this think hold?

  13. Darryl

    Sandwich bag? Another unanswered question

    What about re-usability? Will you have to pull another one out of the box, or can you just rinse it out under the tap and let it air dry?

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And this is hovering over our heads?

    Hang on, we have the weight equivalent of a white van full of tools dangling off something with the strength of a sandwich bag at 33km altitude and nobody is worried?

    It's going to make an interesting hole dropped from 100m, let alone from 33km height. What goes up must eventually come down again too: how is this going to land?

    1. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

      Re: And this is hovering over our heads?

      ... which is why they test it with cats first

    2. Justicesays

      Re: And this is hovering over our heads?

      Easy solved.

      The odds of it hitting anyone or damaging anything important when it lands are quite low.

      So they probably just bought some insurance... if they bothered at all.

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: And this is hovering over our heads?

        > The odds of it hitting anyone or damaging anything important

        So they flew it over Washinton DC or Westminster?

  15. A. Coatsworth Silver badge

    Sick and tired of your imperial measurements... cricket pitches? NONSENSE!

    The SI lenght unit is the football (soccer) field

  16. Snafu1

    "Regarding the weight"

    Mass, shirley, as weight is a function of gravity, hence would decrease upon ascension..

    I'm still puzzled by the necessity to overpressurise, as the official (Vulture) SPB techlog demonstrated the need to vent lifting gas in order to reduce the chance of catastrophic envelope breach (similar systems can be seen WRT undersea deployment, in reverse)..

    Oh well, I suppose the US has to find some use for its He2 overstocking..

  17. x 7

    " the balloon's fully-inflated diameter (114.5m) is "nearly the length of six cricket pitches", "

    no its not, thats more like the length of six cricket wickets i.e. the area between the stumps.

    six cricket pitches would be 500 metres or more

    1. Stoneshop


      thats more like the length of six cricket wickets i.e. the area between the stumps.

      conformability error

      Length and area do not match regarding number of dimensions.

      You're also missing an apostrophe.

      1. x 7

        Re: Dimensions

        "conformability error"

        wthin the context I was talking about the length of the area between the stumps, not the area (value) of the area (physical location)

        "You're also missing an apostrophe."

        Good, I virtually never use them. They are an old anachronistic hangover from an older age of copperplate, procrastination and pedantry. Far better without

        1. Stoneshop

          Re: Dimensions

          the length of the area between the stumps,

          Which one commonly calls 'distance'. Less words as well as clearer.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Kilocats.. is that metric moggies or Imperial?

    Hmmn.. just realised, it's a silly question, isn't it? With cats involved, it'll be Imperial!

  19. insertusername

    A new source of power

    Its nice to know if you can't find your cat, you can use 22 kangaroos or 400 cats. Seeing as though I live in Blighty and kangaroos are hard to come by thanks to budgets cuts, I am looking forward to coming to work by cat power. I wonder if nasa is planning to use cpw (cat power) as a new fuel source to reach mars and beyond

    1. x 7

      Re: A new source of power

      short term you'd get more power by burning the cats in a special basket shaped furnace

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    2.5 midsized cars? Which ones

    To me, a Toyota Highlander is mid-sized, when compared against a Hummer H1 or a smaller Subaru Outback. Others might claim a MIni Cooper is mid sized as compared to an Ariel Atom. This sandwich bag could only lift 1 Hummer, 2 Highlanders or probably 9 Atoms. So which mid-sized cars were they talking about and what color? Also does this weight calculation include a driver for each car?

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