A man who sparked widespread panic and caused the US government to increase its alert code from green to red after falsely claiming his son was piloting a helium balloon, has been given an extraordinary sentence.
Judge Stephen Schapanski told Richard Heene, 48, that due to the seriousness of his crime and as a deterrence to others, he would have to pilot NASA's new space probe 'Lunar Titanic' which will fly into the sun in order to 'see what happens.' The project was recently cancelled as budget restrictions meant the spacecraft was unable to be fitted with an automatic navigation system and all of NASA's existing astronauts had refused to take part in the suicidal mission.
Summing-up, Judge Schapanski said: 'Your actions resulted in huge expense for the State of Colorado and more importantly, you come across as a self-aggrandizing, half-witted sleaze-ball. This mission presents an opportunity for you to redeem yourself, while simultaneously reducing this nation's burgeoning idiot population. Godspeed.'
Heene frantically called authorities last October to say that his six-year-old son, Falcon, had taken off in a homemade balloon and was possibly heading for Washington, the Pentagon or Guantanamo Bay. As the balloon drifted over Colorado, six F-16 Falcon fighter aircraft were scrambled from Buckley Air Force Base and were ordered to engage the contraption at the first opportunity.
After a vicious dogfight resulting in the loss of two F-16's and a commercial airliner, the balloon was finally brought down, only for forces on the ground to discover that there was no one inside. The boy was later discovered hiding at home in a microwave.
The boy's mother, Mayumi Heene, 45, was found guilty of colluding with her husband and ordered to start training as a balloon entertainer, which will be the only way she is permitted to earn a living for the rest of her life. The judge told Mrs Heene: 'Not only will this punishment be a constant reminder of your heinous crime, it will allow everyone you come across in the course of your new career to have a good laugh.'
A NASA spokesman said Mr Heene is due to be fired into space next month and potential spectators should visit their website where tickets will be on sale from tomorrow.