Tethered High Altitude Weather Balloons Launched in Preparation for Eclipse

Two tethered StratoStar high-altitude weather balloons ascended high above the former band practice field June 21 at Southeast Missouri State University, giving area school teachers hands-on preparation for a similar launch in August to coincide with the Great American Solar Eclipse.

There will be no tethers on Aug. 21 when those teachers along with their students return to campus to send experiments they’ve designed to the edge of space. That day at noon, two balloons will rise from Houck Field to nearly 100,000 feet, carrying their experiments and GoPro and 360-degree cameras to capture eclipse images from a spectacular vantage point in the earth’s stratosphere.

Kaci Heins, education supervisor with Space Center Houston – the official visitor center to NASA Johnson Space Center, and a Southeast graduate, led the tethered launch. She will return to Southeast in August to participate in the experiment with 25 southeast Missouri school teachers from 17 local school districts.

Heins led the teachers in designing mini experiments during the Collaborative Regional Education (CORE) Academy conference June 20-21 at Southeast. Area teachers prepared for the August launch by placing any number of items – fish oil, a Tylenol tablet, a geranium flower, popcorn, Play-Doh and a cotton ball — in test tubes that were then attached to the tethered balloons.

As the school year begins in August, the teachers will work with their students on true research experiments that they will place in two test tubes. One will serve as a control group while the other will be attached to the balloons and carried into the atmosphere.

Chase teams will capture the payloads when they fall back to earth, and the payloads will be returned to the teachers. They along with their students, can then analyze the data and video recorded during the flight.

While the teachers are still considering what type of experiment their students might launch, some mentioned the possibility of studying bacteria and others, antibiotics.

“I get to launch something into space. That’s something I thought I would never get to do as a science teacher,” said Ashley Woolard, STEM and science teacher at Poplar Bluff Junior High. “I hope it will light a fire in our kids to see the importance of science in real life.”