by KARI BLURTON
Your eyes weren’t playing tricks on you — the huge white balloon trailing boxes and flying high over Hays on Friday morning was, in fact, real.
Sixth-graders from Stockton and Salina’s St. Mary’s Grade School participated in a high-altitude ballooning project with the help of the physics department at Fort Hays State University.
According to FHSU professor of education and physics Dr. Paul Adams, the students were given the task to build a payload — a box with cameras or bottles of liquid attached – that would then be lifted by a helium balloon 85,000 feet into the sky.
Adams said the purpose of the project is not only so students can study pictures of the atmosphere and freezing temperatures, but also to physically apply knowledge learned in the classroom.
“(The project) combines science, it combines engineering, and it’s then carried over to performance,” Adams said. “It’s not just you can tell me about this, but you are going to perform and show me what you can do.”
He added, “And really the fun part is: Who doesn’t want like to launch things 85,000 feet into the air?”
Adams said the project is funded by the Kansas NASA Space Grant and part of NASA’s interest is “developing the next generation career and workforce” in the science and engineering fields.
Stockton junior high math and science teacher Andrea Dix said her students have been working on the project since November, and the project has “tweaked” their interest in science.
“(The balloon launch) gives the students an idea of how they can take the things they learn in the classroom and take off into the real world,” Dix said.
“I think it’s awesome,” added FHSU sophomore Cody Studer who helped with the project as a member of FHSU’s Science and Mathematics Education Institute, “We are sending something up that is going onto the edge of outer space.”
Adams predicted the balloon will travel for about 2.5 hours.
The students have radio devices and will track the balloons for retrieval Friday afternoon.
Salina South High School will launch another balloon and payload Monday from Bickle-Schmidt Sports Complex at 8:30 a.m.
The balloon can be tracked at habhub.org.