Our Journey To Space

We did it!  The Blue and Yellow bands sent a balloon into the stratosphere.  It reached a height of 83,000 ft, roughly 3 times the height a commercial jet flies, before bursting and bringing back to earth footage from it’s journey.

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All big dreams have small beginnings and our adventure started here with this sketch by our expert ballooning enthusiast, Josh Myer (Calvin’s dad).  The band took notes, asked good questions and generally absorbed all the important mission information they could.   I love those faces!

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The students learned from their expert that the scope of this project was pretty large and the risk of losing our balloon and equipment was very real.  Like any ambitious project we divided ours into smaller more manageable segments.  The blue band split into two teams: Team Helium and Team Payload.

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The Yellow Band was tasked with figuring out where our balloon would land.  Gever briefed the whole team on wind and weather patterns and how they might effect our launch.  The students learned that wind speed and direction is different at higher altitudes.  This is why the speed at which our balloon rises effects the distance it travels.  The longer it stays at high altitudes the further it will be carried by strong high altitude winds.  This information would later become important in the Helium Team’s calculations.

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Team Payload’s first task was to weigh all of the ingredients of the payload so that the Team Helium could estimate the amount of helium they would need to buy.  They used the balance scale to weigh the go pro, GPS tracker, battery pack as well as the various packaging and lines.

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Team Payload had learned from our egg-drop challenge the importance of securing all of the equipment so it wouldn’t break.  They came up with a system for securing the equipment and lines to the styrofoam container in such a way that we could still remove them.  They were in charge of making sure all the important components were packed, charged, and turned on for the flight.

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Team Helium used the balloon performance calculator to estimate how much helium they would need.  They entered the weight of the balloon and the weight of the payload and then played around with the amount of lift until the balloon’s ascent rate was ideal. When they had figured out the amount of lift they recorded the cubic feet of helium we would need to create that lift.  It turned out we needed 76 cuft of helium, so we piled into the car and headed out to a party store to rent a tank of helium!

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Team Helium’s next big task was to go over the balloon filling procedure and create checklists.  They read a how-to guide and harvested important information on what to pack, safety procedures and the steps they would need to take to fill the balloon without popping it!

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Sadie and Isaac practice the knot they will need to use to tie off the balloon!  Sadie volunteered for this high stakes job, and pulled it off beautifully.

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On the day of the launch Ramses read the steps to the team and the rest of the Team followed his instructions for filling the balloon.

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First they attached the nozzle onto the tank.

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Then they attached the hose to the balloon and held it gently while the tank was turned on.

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It was amazing to see the balloon fill with air and start tugging on our lift scale.  We needed 1050 grams of lift in order to have a successful flight.  Different teams of two took turns holding the scale and reading out the amount of lift.  As the payload was attached to the balloon the you could feel the excitement and tension.  We were so close to launch and nothing had gone wrong!  The balloon was finally launched amidst screams of relief and delight.  As the balloon floated away into a speck in the sky the kids ran around giving each other hugs and high fives and generally wearing out their vocal chords!

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Had we known, when we left the Lawrence Hall of Sciences to chase down the balloon, that we would be returning home hours past everyones bed time, we might have turned back.

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But if we had, we would’ve missed one of those golden moments of childhood, when you leave the safety of routine, do something difficult and then discover that despite all odds your story has a happy ending!

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Back at school the following week, we coaxed a story out of the lists of numbers recovered from our GPS.  We discovered that the balloon had traveled 115 flat miles, ascended to 82,798 ft and reached speeds up to 73 mph.

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The Blue Band graphed the altitude data and got an idea of the path our brave balloon took through the sky.

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You can see footage of the earth from near space as well as the launch.  It is truly breath taking.  I hope you enjoy it!