By CRISTINA JANNEY
Hays USD 489’s students became astronauts Wednesday with a launch of a weather balloon into the upper atmosphere — vicariously, at least.
FHSU’s Science and Mathematics Education Institute launched a weather balloon from the Gross Memorial Coliseum parking lot as part of a four-day “Mission to Mars” themed workshop they are presenting to Hays students in Title I Part C Education Program this week.
The weather balloon carried a payload of about 15 pounds that included pressure, temperature and radiation sensors, as well as a camera to record the flight and 3-D printed astronaut versions of the students.
The payload also contained a bag of Cheetos and cans of pop. Paul Adams, dean of the College of Education and coordinator of the balloon launch, said the bag of Cheetos will probably blow up as the air pressure decreases.
In addition, carrot seeds were included in the payload. The Title 1 students will be able to take home the seeds that have been exposed to radiation in the upper atmosphere as well as control seeds that stayed on the ground. They can plant those seeds and observe if there are any differences in how the plants develop.
Adams regularly participates in weather balloon launches and collects that data for use by students in the Science and Mathematics Education Institute during the school year.
Adams said he expected the latex balloon to travel to a height of about 87,000 feet. As a result of weather conditions Wednesday, the balloon only reached about 60,000 feet. At height, the decreased pressure resulted in the balloon enlarging to about 30 feet across. The balloons become so large they pop and then the payload usually takes about a half an hour to return to earth.
Adams was not sure how far the balloon would travel while it was aloft. Adams predicted the balloon would end up northeast of Russell. The balloon was found using GPS equipment north of Russell between the towns of Paradise and Fairport.
Adams has had balloons that ended up near the Nebraska border and as far away as Wichita. One balloon was caught in the jet stream and was tracked at 183 mph.
“We have traveled as much as 100 miles away, and we have ended up only five miles away,” he said.
Before the launch, two boys in the group said they thought the carrot seeds would burst because of the changes in air pressure. They did not think the seeds would grow. If they did grow, they did not think they would be edible.
All of the students said they had never participated in a weather balloon launch.
The balloon’s sensors recorded temperature, air pressure and radiation, and the camera recorded audio, but the video recording failed. The handle holding the children’s 3-D printed astronauts broke, sending the astronauts to earth from 25,000 feet up. The carrot seeds on board were recovered with the sensors.
Although some of the 3-D figures may have ended up in the Saline River, Adams said he has had lost payloads recovered.
Last winter, Hays High School lost a payload from a weather balloon at about 70,000 feet. The students used the opportunity to calculate where the payload may have landed. About a month ago, the payload was recovered about a mile from where the students estimated the payload landed.
Although part of Wednesday’s payload was lost, Adams said this can be a good lesson for the students on engineering. All the students will receive lost in space certificates for their missing astronauts.
Adams said allowing students to see science is not just something that happens in a classroom is an important aspect of the activity.
“Learning to work together as a group is part of it,” he said. “It is also the idea that you get to see that if you do an investigation, science is not just a bench thing that you do in a classroom. You design your investigation and then other members of your class design the payload box and ‘I am going to do the testing.’ It shows to do a significant study, it requires all sorts of skills.
“There is also a workforce development element,” he said, “because it looks at the fact that it takes multiple skills and not everyone is a scientist, but ‘I like to build.’ ‘I’m an engineer.’ I think it follows along with our focus on workforce skills.”
Teacher Megan Adams, Paul Adam’s daughter, of Fowler USD 225 helped FHSU students and Makerspace staff Eric and Erin Adams, also Paul Adam’s children, in guiding the 18 students through hands-on activities and experiments this week related to getting to Mars, building on Mars, communicating through space and exploring Mars.
Securing eggs for a safe four-story drop, a visit to the Planetarium, constructing a Mars community and creating rovers is providing an out-of-this-world experience and challenging students to be forward-thinking and universe ready, Starla Gano of the Kansas Title I Part C Education Program said in a news release.