Steven Peterzen has been ballooning for more than 30 years. He’s launched balloons for different missions for NASA from Antarctica, helped build balloon programs for the Italian Space Agency, Norway, Spain, Morocco, Australia and New Zealand.
Now, he’s using his background in stratospheric ballooning to cast on nationwide concerns of a Chinese suspected spy balloon spotted in the skies over Montana.
“Very difficult, really, to make it stay at a particular altitude and make it come right over certain areas of the U.S.,” Peterzen said “And why would they choose the path that it’s going? That’s just the way the winds are blowing.”
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Peterzen doubts that the balloon is a craft of espionage at all, theorizing that it is a rogue research balloon that its command center lost control of. It’s an occurrence that he says happens more than people think.
“It’s only at 60,000 feet, which is not very high. Our balloons are normally flying at 125,000-130,000 feet. If you’re going to spy on somebody, you probably want to be a bit higher,” Peterzen said.
The mysterious aircraft has gained nationwide coverage and responses from government officials.
“China’s decision to fly a surveillance balloon over the continental United States is both unacceptable and irresponsible. That’s what this is about. It’s a violation of our sovereignty,” U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken said.
Some congressional representatives have taken to Twitter, questioning and shaming the Biden administration for refusing to shoot the balloon down.
Peterzen says it’s not that simple.
“What do we have that’s gonna shoot it down at 60,000 feet? Are you gonna have a self-destruct missile that’s gonna try to take it out? And hopefully the missile doesn’t land someplace where it shouldn’t. It’s just a balloon,” Peterzen said.
He says the balloon could have been researching several different things rather than being used for surveillance before command lost control of the balloon, from Earth observations to interstitial dust in the atmosphere.
“Whoever was sitting where the launch site was — they were the last person on the planet to go to their boss and say we ‘We cant control it. It’s headed to the U.S.’ They probably lost their job,” Peterzen said.