Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering
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U of MN Ballooning Team Gives Local Middle School Students First Taste of Spaceflight with Missions to "Near-Space"

On May 19th and 26th, 2011, the University's High-Altitude Ballooning Team launched four weather balloons into the stratosphere (AKA "near-space"), to altitudes ranging from 80,000 to 90,000 feet. The balloons carried scientific payloads designed and built by students from nine local middle schools, under the instruction of teachers who attended a MN Space Grant Consortium (MnSGC) workshop last summer. The payloads contained video and still cameras, flight computers, data loggers, accelerometers, and sensors to measure basic weather data, cosmic radiation levels, and solar panel output through the troposphere and lower stratosphere.

Inflating two 1500-gram weather balloons with helium to carry middle school science payloads to "near-space."

The balloons also carried tracking radios which transmitted GPS information to the team in real time so the flights could be tracked and recovered once the balloons burst and the payloads returned by parachute. The launches, as well as last summer's teacher workshop, were part of a new MnSGC outreach program promoting science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education for middle school teachers and students through the hands-on experience of high-altitude ballooning.

The Ballooning Team is advised by Professor James Flaten, Associate Director of the MnSGC, and was jointly sponsored by the MnSGC and the Pentair Foundation. Ballooning team members include Joey Senkyr, Philip Hansen, Monique Hladun, Vishnuu Mallik, Alex Ngure, Anthony Knutson, Angela Bowitz, Kyle Marek-Spartz, plus team co-leads Seth Frick and Caitlyn Mantych. The Ballooning Team works year-round to develop and fly high-altitude experiments and also performs outreach activities.

Team member Vishnuu Mallik poses with students from Columbia Heights Middle School and their science payload.
Photographed from nearly 90,000 feet, atmospheric layering and the curvature of the Earth can be seen.

Last Modified: Tuesday, 07-Jun-2011 16:26:17 CDT -- this is in International Standard Date and Time Notation