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Greenbrier students' balloon launch project a success

Posted: November 25, 2013 - 12:01pm
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The EAST team prepares to launch their weather balloon as the crowd cheers. BJ Fox photo
The EAST team prepares to launch their weather balloon as the crowd cheers. BJ Fox photo

Five Greenbrier High School EAST students worked on a year-long project to launch a weather balloon that would collect data about the earth and its climate. Led by sophomore Ben Benton, three other sophomores, Alex Dixon, Zak Hollenbaugh and Max Huggins and senior Foster Hines, showed determination, team-work, originality and creativity. “They used scientific methods, math in their calculations, computer skills, literacy skills and just plain good business skills in assembling all the parts for their launch, tracking the progress, and gaining permission to do such an enormous project,” said Facilitator Kim Austin.

Dad Joey Benton, with his wife Donna, helped fund their efforts and acted as chase car driver and photographer. Joey Benton said, “We love the EAST program because it gives the kids the means and outlet for their creativity.” Donna said, “We want them to think out of the box.”  And out-of-the-box this team of young men did go — about 24 miles up.  The flight took 111 minutes to reach an altitude of 38,000 meters (or 124,000 feet or 24 miles).  The lowest temperature was minus 38 Celsius, minus 36.4 Fahrenheit.

They had received special permission from Air Traffic Control through a complicated series of emails and phone calls with the Federal Aviation Association (FAA) to launch at 9 a.m. Nov. 20. They did lift-off at 9:26 a.m. to the cheers and count-down of the whole school and spectators.

A minor glitch delayed lift-off when they discovered the GPS would not send signals from inside the housing that was taped shut; so they undid the tape and taped it to the outside. The total weight of their payload could not exceed 12 pounds. It weighed five pounds and contained a movie camera to photo the curvature of the earth. The microcontroller inside, programmed by Foster Hines, was able to collect data every second of the flight... measuring the altitude, temperature and pressure. Ben Benton and his team collected excellent footage with the camera. People were able to follow it on their blog and Twitter accounts as the young men told the world every ten seconds of their launch, tracking, landing and retrieval.

The balloon was actually inflated with helium to a diameter of six feet and soared upward to over the predicted height of 110,000 feet—the equivalent of 73 Empire State buildings! When the balloon expanded to a twenty foot diameter under the extreme cold, it burst and a tiny parachute floated it to earth. They were able to retrieve the payload successfully in a field in  McCrory, AR.  These five young men have been together since third grade and in the East program for three years. All they wanted for Christmas last year—and for birthdays—were parts for this balloon experiment which was around $1,000.00—well worth it if you ask any parent watching the team at work. Visit spotted.thecabin.net for more photos.

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