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Gateway to the universe

Last week’s space balloon project at Bailey Elementary School in Woodbury returned several images from Earth’s stratosphere, including this shot of planet Earth. Submitted Photo1 / 2
Fourth-graders at Bailey Elementary School in Woodbury sent a near-space balloon into the stratosphere Friday. The goal of the project was to collect altitude, atmospheric pressure and temperature data while capturing still photographs and video. Forum News Service2 / 2

WOODBURY — Fourth-graders in Bailey Elementary School’s Gateway gifted and talented program got a view of the stratosphere from a much higher angle. 

On Friday, students launched a near-space balloon 105,000 feet up into the atmosphere to collect data and capture photographs and video.

“They can see the curve of the Earth and see the layers of the atmosphere,” said Colleen Redmond, fourth-grade Gateway teacher. “When else do you get to personally have something (that you designed) go up and come back down?”

A gifted group

Redmond said she came up with the idea for the project after reading an article in Popular Science magazine about a group of fifth-graders who were able to send a balloon into the atmosphere.

“That whole idea wasn’t really on my radar,” she said. “But when I saw that they had done it and saw that kids were actually making it happen, it really seemed like it had great possibilities.”

Redmond said she felt the space balloon project was a great opportunity for her Gateway students because it provided them an additional creative and intellectual outlet.

“It gives students in a gifted program a chance to do something that really pushes their abilities,” she said. “This group of students is just a really great, inventive group that needed some kind of outlet to do something that was different than what they had done before.”

Redmond contacted Paul Kaup, a pilot with Southwest Airlines who assisted with the balloon featured in the article, about how to approach the project.

Kaup, who is part of the STEM+C (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Plus Creativity) program, sent Redmond a booklet of information detailing how to accomplish such a project.

Studying space

For three weeks Redmond’s students studied the many facets of the project — layers of the universe, wave length and universal time — before beginning on the design and construction of their space balloon.

The balloon that was sent up last week featured a “gondola,” or Styrofoam cooler, a helium-filled weather balloon and parachute.

Within the gondola was a GPS system, a still camera, a video camera and a data logger, which recorded temperatures, altitudes, atmospheric pressure and ascent and descent rates.

Students launched the balloon at roughly 11:10 a.m. Friday after two attempts.

The balloon continued its ascent before it burst, because of the altitude, after which time it began its descent with the help of the parachute.

The balloon touched down at 3:30 p.m. just southeast of Cannon Falls on a dirt road.

Two school volunteers collected the balloon from its final destination thanks to the GPS.

Redmond said she hopes to be able to offer the space balloon project again next year.

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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