On Saturday Oct. 27 a group of middle school students from Francine Delany New School launched a weather balloon with a camera into near-space. The payload was a styrofoam cooler with a camera, some seeds (to see if radiation affects them) a few personal items, a GPS unit and some insulation and padding.
Video courtesy of Golden Manatee Productions of Asheville.
The flight lasted around 90 minutes before the balloon expanded to bursting and the payload came to earth. The computer models predicted the landfall north of Winston-Salem, near Mt. Airy, N.C.
Search teams from the school fanned out tracking the GPS signal within an hour of launch. Saturday it was feared the cargo was lost. Teams got conflicting information from GPS which led them on a fruitless search of the Wilson Creek area of the Linville Gorge wilderness area.
Sunday morning was different, the GPS trackers all agreed on a fix north of Boone, near the NC/TN line. After a few minutes of walking off-trail, student Caleb Barber and teacher Tom Robertson found the cooler sitting on the ground. “Like someone had just set it there,” said Robertson. “It was behind some heavy (laurel) bushes,” said Barber, ” but it was right off the trail.”
Monday night Oct. 29 was the first viewing of the video at Asheville Pizza and Brewing on Merrimon Avenue. Students, parents, teachers and supporters cheered the balloons progress as it showed fantastic views of Asheville before hitting the clouds. Above the clouds, there was a great view of the expanse of Hurricane Sandy’s outer bands. The sky turned to space color, with the curve of the Earth clearly visible.
The most dramatic part was the last few moments. The balloon burst (as they must due to pressure) and the camera caught a fantastic spiral down to landing. It appears the shredded balloon got tangled in the parachute shrouds which prevented it’s deployment.
How high did it get? “We don’t really know yet. GPS stops recording altitude at 30,000 feet, but we are sending the images to NASA, they should be able to figure that for us,” said Tom Heck, lead volunteer in the project. “The video is fantastic, everyone should see this.”
The video will be shared, in an edited form, at the morning session of TEDx Asheville on Sun. Nov. 4
More stills from the video:
From the parking lot, the launch crew waves farewell.
Drifting slowly south at first, great views of Asheville.
Breaking through the top cloud layer, headed for near-space.