During Spring 2014, Open Classroom Middle School applied for and received a Ventura Education Partnership grant for our Mission to the Edge of Space high altitude balloon launch project.
We set out to launch a weather balloon into Earth’s upper atmosphere, carrying a capsule equipped with cameras, data recording computer, and a GPS tracking device.  We divided the students into teams based on the areas they were most interested in.   We had teams working on capsule design and building, analyzing the winds and weather to predict the ideal launch day, researching the best equipment to buy, creating a mascot to be the foreground object attached to the capsule, publicizing the event, and we had a student video crew filming the process.  The teams met once or twice a week during science period, overseen by parent advisors, and work on the project progressed throughout 4th quarter (Spring 2014).
After several delays waiting for favorable wind conditions, the launch date was set for Monday, May 19th.  All of Blanche Reynolds and Open Classroom came out to count down and watch the launch.  After getting final clearance from the FAA, we sent our balloon skyward at approximately 9:50 am, with its parachute and camera capsule attached.   We then got the chase team (1 teacher, 1 parent and 4 students) ready to go retrieve it.  The data tracking team stayed behind as Mission Control at the school.  All through the morning, we were tracking it in real time via the onboard GPS transmitter, and posting live updates on our Facebook event page.
Our balloon went up much more slowly than we expected (probably due to our not having quite as much helium as we thought), so the flight was a bit longer than anticipated.  We expected it to ascend for about 2 ½ hours, and take about ½ hour to descend.  In reality, the total flight was around 5 ½ hours.  For a nail-biting 3 hours of that time, we had no signal from our GPS. because it cannot transmit from above 60,000 feet, so we just had to wait until it began its descent and signaled us again—during this time (which lasted much longer than we expected) we didn’t know if it was still over 60,000 feet, or if we had lost the signal for some other reason, and thus lost our capsule cameras and data—fortunately this was not the case, and it resumed signaling again as it came down.
The balloon flight path
It reached a final altitude of 105,000 feet…more than 3 times as high as the typical cruising altitude of a jetliner, and over 3 times higher than Mt. Everest!  We were able to collect our capsule from the desert near Barstow, thanks to the GPS tracking device, our steadfast mission control team, our intrepid chase team, and some good luck.  Once we got the data computer and cameras back to school, we were able to spend the next few days watching the videos and analyzing the data.   These Middle Schoolers will have a very exciting memory that will stay with them, and some new science skills as well.
We are very grateful to Ventura Education Partnership for the funding that made this project possible.
If you are interested in knowing more about it, you can retrace the whole flight at this page: