Thursday, June 2, 2011

Changes in Altitudes Arizona

Changes in Altitudes is a Balloon Satellite program for 5th-12th grade teachers and students. It is an amazing program for students, schools, parents, and the community.  It is sponsored by NASA, Northern Arizona University, Science Foundation Arizona, and the Arizona Space Grant Consortium.  Arizona Near Space Research teams help with the launch, tracking and recovery of the balloon and payloads. The funding covers a teacher weekend workshop to construct the scientific payload and launch it just like the students participate in.  We get all of the materials from the workshop for the students to construct by April.  The best part about this program is that the students do EVERYTHING!!  It is the perfect hands-on learning experience where students get to apply math, science, and team building skills.  We usually worked every Wednesday after school for a couple hours.  It was the perfect stretch of time to get everything done.  The students had to construct their payload boxes from foam core material and insulate it with foam.  One of the skills that the students enjoyed the most was learning how to solder their wires together.  They were way better at it than me!  They had to construct and solder a heater to a switch because it gets around -60 degrees where the balloon pops.  They had to solder all the wires, circuits, and the time-lapse camera as well.  We also include a temperature and pressure sensor so we can analyze data as the balloon travels up and down through the different layers of the atmosphere. 

When we get ready to head to Phoenix, there are two groups of 4 students that get to participate in the weekend trips in April.  I had a blast getting to know my students better and relate to them outside of the classroom.  The free hotel, swimming, warm Phoenix weather, and hands-on science weren't bad either!   Friday night we double check to see that everything is working properly and then seal up the payload.  Early Saturday morning we head out to the launch site, attach the payloads, and watch the helium filled balloon take our instruments as close to space as possible.  In the cars we have GPS and walkie talkies to relay information about the speed, height, and possible landing site of the balloon.  It usually takes around 2 hours from launch to recovery.  Our first team couldn't recover the payloads ourselves because the terrain was too much for the vehicles and when the ANSR team found them, they were on top of a 20 foot cactus!  Our second team landed in an alfalfa field surrounded by powerlines.  I don't know how it didn't land on one.  In the end the students open their payloads and download their pictures and data.  We usually get around 700 pictures that are just breathtaking when it captures images of the curvature of the Earth.  The first group's balloon went up to around 94,000 ft., while the second group's ballon went up to around 88,000 ft.  Overall, very successful and very fun.  Check out to see if your state has a balloon program.  If not, then NASA has one for high schoolers at 

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