The Pentagon released a photo of a Chinese spy balloon in mid-air

(CNN) The U.S. Department of Defense has released a selfie taken by an airman in the cockpit of a U-2 spy plane. Chinese observation balloon shot down by the US military earlier this month.

A selfie taken by the U-2 pilot shows the shadow of the plane on the balloon and a clear image of the balloon’s payload as it crosses the continental United States. CNN First reported The existence of the selfie.

The balloon was first spotted by the United States on January 28 and eventually shot down by the US military off the coast of South Carolina after crossing the country.

A senior State Department official said earlier this month that “Fly-Bice demonstrated that high-altitude balloon signals are capable of conducting intelligence-gathering operations.”

Officials said decided against Because of the balloon’s size, if it were fired over the United States, it was feared that falling debris would harm civilians or property on the ground. Gen. Glenn VanHerg, commander of the U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), later said the balloon was 200 feet high with a two-thousand-pound payload.

Officials also said the balloon was not capable of conducting significant intelligence gathering because the United States took immediate action to protect it upon sighting it.

The U-2 was a single-seat, high-altitude reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft with “glider-like characteristics”. Air Force. Because the planes are routinely “flown at an altitude of 70,000 feet,” pilots “must wear a full pressure suit similar to that worn by astronauts.”

A photo released Wednesday clearly shows the pilot flying above the balloon, which was flying at 60,000 feet when it was spotted in Montana.

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The selfie was captured a week after the balloon entered US airspace near Alaska, and NORAD dispatched fighter jets, according to defense officials.

Nevertheless, the officials monitoring the balloon saw little cause for alarm. At the timeAccording to U.S. officials, the balloon was expected to travel over Alaska and continue on a northerly course where intelligence and military officials could monitor and study.

Instead, shortly after passing land, the balloon alerted authorities by unexpectedly turning south.

Once it arrived in the U.S., officials argued that the benefits of gathering additional intelligence in the balloon outweighed the risk of shooting it down on the ground.

U.S. officials said the U.S. sent U-2 spy planes to monitor the balloon’s progress.

Rescue efforts began soon after the balloon was shot down in the Atlantic Ocean on February 4. were decided On February 17. Pieces of debris were transferred to the Federal Bureau of Investigation Laboratory in Virginia for further analysis.

Pentagon Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said Wednesday that the balloon’s payload had been recovered.

CNN’s Zachary Cohen and Natasha Bertrand contributed reporting.

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