By Janet Jacobs
On Tuesday morning, students from Kerens High School launched a weather balloon into the sky equipped with cameras, video cameras, a thermometer, a couple of trackers, and some chemical heaters from the 40-yard-line of the A.G. Godley football field.
The tiny stuffed bobcat stayed home.
The morning wasn’t without drama. The first balloon burst, surprising everyone, and forcing them to use the back-up balloon filled with helium borrowed from the local florist shop in Kerens.
“That’s why it’s called an experiment,” said James Inmon, teacher. “We learned some good lessons today.”
The balloon launch was a project for the Integrated Chemistry and Physics class, which consists of three freshmen and a sophomore at Kerens High. The students had to do some math regarding the expansion of gases, weighing of equipment, figuring out what their balloon would support and other aspects of preparation for the project. Ultimately, though, it was just a cool sciency thing they got to do thanks to the Kerens Education Foundation, which put up $500.
“Most of the stuff we got off eBay and Amazon, trying to find the cheapest deals,” Inmon said. “It’s been two or three months just acquiring things.”
Both balloons were 1982 vintage bought off eBay, which made the latex a bit brittle and may explain why one of them burst. The second one wasn’t filled as tightly, so got a slow lift-off, barely skimming past one of the football field light stands until it was caught by the wind and quickly swirled up out of sight.
Because the second balloon didn’t have as much helium, the students had to cut back on the cuteness factor by cutting free the tiny stuffed bobcat, which was supposed to go up also. Instead, it was all about the science, and that got off the ground just fine.
At 100,000 feet, the balloon was expected to burst from the lack of atmospheric pressure, and then a small parachute would carry the “payload” of cameras back to earth. It didn’t get quite that high, unfortunately. The good news was that the chase car was able to locate the orange-wrapped box full of cameras and sensors and recover everything.
“We found it between Terrell and Wills Point in the community of Frog, Texas,” Inmon said late Tuesday afternoon.
“The flight time wasn’t long enough and the altitude wasn’t high enough, but all things considered it went well. We’ll go higher in a couple of weeks when the fifth graders launch their balloon.
“They’ll get the benefit of our mistakes,” Inmon said.
The effort went over budget a little bit, admitted Kevin Stanford, superintendent. The school used some science money to pay for extra helium, and a satellite signal that made it possible to track their tiny package when it fell back to earth.
The ultimate goal is to have more classes moving towards project-based learning, Stanford said.
“We’re trying to engage the students more,” he said. “Everybody knows kids learn by doing hands-on.”
Helping with the logistics of the project was Cliff Davis, the high school’s maintenance man.
“If it flies, I’m interested,” Davis said, before explaining that his hobby is launching model rockets.
“The teachers ask my expertise on occasion,” Davis said. “It’s more fun than fixing water leaks.”
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