West Ranch students send experiments into earth’s atmosphere

By Christina Cox

Last update: Monday, May 15th, 2017

Students at West Ranch High School prefer to conduct their experiments high up in the air, rather than safely on the ground.

For the fourth year, 30 students in the school’s astronomy program sent a High-Altitude Weather Balloon to the upper edges of the earth’s atmosphere.

“What’s really awesome about it is that it’s completely driven by students,” Astronomy Teachers Christine Hirst said.  “They do everything from configuring it to filling it to programming it to setting up social media accounts to recovering it.”

West Ranch students fill a high altitude balloon, or HAB, as they prepare to launch the balloon and its payload at the school on Monday, May 15, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Along with the balloon were a satellite communication system, spot radios, GoPro cameras and two payload boxes full of nine experiments to see how Jell-O, bubblegum, blood, frozen water bottles, watches and even a goldfish react to the changing atmosphere and altitude.

Senior David Nelson said the two astronomy classes started to prepare for the project about a month ago. Students were placed into the mission control, payload, launch, recon and media teams were they were assigned to certain roles based on their interests.

West Ranch students and their teacher, Christine Hirst, gather to do a group cheer ahead of their high altitude balloon launch on Monday, May 15, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

“I’m interested in the stars and space in general,” said Nelson who was a member of the media team.  “I knew about the project ahead of time and wanted to take this job title.”

Once the balloon was in the air, students on the recon time began to track it using Google Maps and the balloon’s live, online feed at http://tinyurl.com/wrhab.

“The recon team then gets the balloon,” junior and media team member Kayla Dizan said.  “The drop point will be in Lancaster area.”

West Ranch students fill a high altitude balloon, or HAB, as they prepare to launch the balloon and its payload at the school on Monday, May 15, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Once the balloon lands in Lancaster, it will be three times its original size and will, hopefully, still be intact.  According to Hirst, the best part of the project is seeing her students take ownership of their work and become classroom leaders.

“It’s awesome to see them emerge as leaders, to own this project, to take complete accountability for it,” she said.  “This is all them.”

A high altitude balloon, or HAB, takes to the skies above West Ranch High School on Monday, May 15, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

In fact, the project began four years ago with one of Hirst’s students, Daniel Tikhomirov, asking if and how the class could collect cosmic dust accumulating on the edge of the earth’s atmosphere.

“I had a student that said ‘What if we just went up and got it?’” Hirst said.  “I started researching it and found that it’s possible, but the only group that had done it was NASA.”

West Ranch students attach a parachute and payloads to a high altitude balloon, or HAB, as they prepare to launch the balloon and its payloads at the school on Monday, May 15, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Despite the risks, both logistically and financially, Hirst committed to launching the balloon into space to answer Tikhomirov’s question.

“I committed to the project before we had the funding and I wrote a grant and it cost exactly how much I had in a deposit account for buying a house,” Hirst said.  “I almost didn’t buy a house in lieu of doing the project.  Fortunately I got the grant within days of losing that deposit.”

West Ranch students wear gloves as they help keep a high altitude balloon, or HAB, steady as they prepare to launch the balloon and its payload at the school on Monday, May 15, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Now the project has continued to grow as students send up new experiments each year and complete projects only done before by NASA.

“Some kids want to learn about astronomy and the stars and other kids want to make this a career,” Dizan said.  “It’s really fun and you get to make a whole other family and learn about space.”

ccox@signalscv.com
661-287-5575
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_

 

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West Ranch students send experiments into earth’s atmosphere

West Ranch students fill a high altitude balloon, or HAB, as they prepare to launch the balloon and its payload at the school on Monday, May 15, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Students at West Ranch High School prefer to conduct their experiments high up in the air, rather than safely on the ground.

For the fourth year, 30 students in the school’s astronomy program sent a High-Altitude Weather Balloon to the upper edges of the earth’s atmosphere.

“What’s really awesome about it is that it’s completely driven by students,” Astronomy Teachers Christine Hirst said.  “They do everything from configuring it to filling it to programming it to setting up social media accounts to recovering it.”

West Ranch students fill a high altitude balloon, or HAB, as they prepare to launch the balloon and its payload at the school on Monday, May 15, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Along with the balloon were a satellite communication system, spot radios, GoPro cameras and two payload boxes full of nine experiments to see how Jell-O, bubblegum, blood, frozen water bottles, watches and even a goldfish react to the changing atmosphere and altitude.

Senior David Nelson said the two astronomy classes started to prepare for the project about a month ago. Students were placed into the mission control, payload, launch, recon and media teams were they were assigned to certain roles based on their interests.

West Ranch students and their teacher, Christine Hirst, gather to do a group cheer ahead of their high altitude balloon launch on Monday, May 15, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

“I’m interested in the stars and space in general,” said Nelson who was a member of the media team.  “I knew about the project ahead of time and wanted to take this job title.”

Once the balloon was in the air, students on the recon time began to track it using Google Maps and the balloon’s live, online feed at http://tinyurl.com/wrhab.

“The recon team then gets the balloon,” junior and media team member Kayla Dizan said.  “The drop point will be in Lancaster area.”

West Ranch students fill a high altitude balloon, or HAB, as they prepare to launch the balloon and its payload at the school on Monday, May 15, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Once the balloon lands in Lancaster, it will be three times its original size and will, hopefully, still be intact.  According to Hirst, the best part of the project is seeing her students take ownership of their work and become classroom leaders.

“It’s awesome to see them emerge as leaders, to own this project, to take complete accountability for it,” she said.  “This is all them.”

A high altitude balloon, or HAB, takes to the skies above West Ranch High School on Monday, May 15, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

In fact, the project began four years ago with one of Hirst’s students, Daniel Tikhomirov, asking if and how the class could collect cosmic dust accumulating on the edge of the earth’s atmosphere.

“I had a student that said ‘What if we just went up and got it?’” Hirst said.  “I started researching it and found that it’s possible, but the only group that had done it was NASA.”

West Ranch students attach a parachute and payloads to a high altitude balloon, or HAB, as they prepare to launch the balloon and its payloads at the school on Monday, May 15, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Despite the risks, both logistically and financially, Hirst committed to launching the balloon into space to answer Tikhomirov’s question.

“I committed to the project before we had the funding and I wrote a grant and it cost exactly how much I had in a deposit account for buying a house,” Hirst said.  “I almost didn’t buy a house in lieu of doing the project.  Fortunately I got the grant within days of losing that deposit.”

West Ranch students wear gloves as they help keep a high altitude balloon, or HAB, steady as they prepare to launch the balloon and its payload at the school on Monday, May 15, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Now the project has continued to grow as students send up new experiments each year and complete projects only done before by NASA.

“Some kids want to learn about astronomy and the stars and other kids want to make this a career,” Dizan said.  “It’s really fun and you get to make a whole other family and learn about space.”

ccox@signalscv.com
661-287-5575
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_

 

About the author

Christina Cox

Christina Cox

Christina Cox is a multimedia journalist covering education, community and breaking news in the Santa Clarita Valley. She joined The Signal as a staff writer in August 2016.