West Ranch, Live Oak students send balloon 70,000 feet high

A GoPro attached to the payload was able to capture the balloons full ascent, May 31, 2019. Photo courtesy of Christine Hirst.
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In partnership with Live Oak Elementary School, a group of West Ranch High School students sent a balloon 70,000 feet into the stratosphere Friday.

The group of West Ranch students had done a similar experiment in the first week of May. Rebecca Hudson, a WRHS team member, said it was important for both her classmates and the elementary school students to see the experiment done again.

“As a student, I think it’s important because in science you want to have an experiment that you can repeat,” said Hudson. “Especially for these kids, having the opportunity for them to send up experiments … that’s just such a great opportunity for them at such a young age that I wish I had when I was their age.”

The weather balloon launch team gets the items ready in the payload before the launch. Lorena Mejia/The Signal

he experiment’s payload skipped the mouse in lieu of suggestions from the Live Oak Elementary school 6th graders, which included Tardigrades (water bears), popcorn kernels, paint (which did not spill, according to Christine Hirst, the WRHS high school science teacher in charge of the project), toothpaste and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

“It is part of my mission to expose young learners to the wonders of space, and the feedback from Live Oak staff, students and parents has been phenomenal,” said Hirst after the launch. “I also got to launch with a very special team of previous astronomy students who are moving on soon to higher education (all in STEM fields) and the experience makes me so proud of them.”

West Ranch students fill up the weather balloon with helium in front of Live Oak Elementary School students. Lorena Mejia/The Signal

The latest launch at the elementary school took place on Live Oak’s campus field, with close to 450 students in attendance, watching and learning. The latex balloon weighed a total of 3,700 grams, which included both the payload and balloon.

After a countdown from the students, the balloon was released, and the payload with a Lego astronaut taped to the side of it traveled approximately 70,000 feet in the air before the pressure in the atmosphere popped the balloon and sent it back down to Earth.

The balloon and its “pilot” made it as high as 70,000 feet into the stratosphere before popping, May 31, 2019. Photo courtesy of Christine Hirst.

“Our payload touched down in a vacant field in Lancaster, with our LEGO adventurer still intact, just a few feet from its vessel,” Hirst said. “We were able to drive to within 20 feet of the site, and recovery was the easiest it’s ever been in seven launches.”

“Anything that gets students questioning and curious is a success in my book,” Hirst added. “We just also happen to have some excellent photos and experience to go along with it.”

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