Students at West Ranch High School are preparing to launch a high altitude weather balloon to the edge of space. Working with StratoStar, a STEM education company, students will design their own experiment and send it soaring high up into the stratosphere. This program is unique to the greater LA and Southern California Region, the launch is set for 2 p.m. at the West Ranch High School Outdoor Amphitheater.
Christine Hirst has worked with NASA scientists and educators to design a mission based astronomy course which allows students to apply their learning to test experiments in space.
West Ranch High School Astronomy students have spent the year learning the fundamentals of astronomy, and will be using this knowledge to design their own experiments to send to the near-space environment. In the early stages of the project, West Ranch students are able to design and build experiments just like engineers and scientists do on a daily basis. The focus of the entire project is on developing 21st century skills through project-based learning. Hirst began the project in 2014, and has successfully launched 45 experiments to space, two of which only NASA has attempted. Students are entirely responsible for every aspect of the launch, from configuring sensors and payload boxes, preparing the launch equipment and recovering the balloon. This year nine experiments will fly in two separate payload boxes.
“The students of today will be the next Elon Musk or Steve Jobs and will change the world. We are helping educators give students opportunities to use problem solving, science and math with real world missions to the edge of space in order to inspire and motivate them to keep exploring!” Once the students have their experiments ready to go, they will be added to the payload and the high-altitude weather balloon will be filled with the lift gas. Students and followers will then be able to track the balloon and the experiment live in real-time as it travels as high as 100,000 feet or three times higher than an airplane.
When the balloon reaches its highest point, it will pop and float back down to the Earth under a parachute. Educators at West Ranch will then track and recover the payload containing the experiment. Once it’s back at the school, students will be able to analyze data, photos, and videos recorded during the flight. They will be writing a 6 chapter, college level research paper, presenting their findings, and creating a video of the experience. Additionally, they are invited to a National conference on high altitude ballooning.
The high-altitude weather balloon project is designed to get students out of the classroom and into a real life mission. Because they are involved in every aspect of the project, students will be developing skills in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. Plus, when the payload returns to the ground, they’ll be able to touch something that went into space.
“An incredible once in a lifetime high school experience that made astronomy students problem solve and mature in their own ways, leading them to high level future careers.” Keira, ‘2014 Mission Control, Cupcakes in Space.
“The balloon launch was an amazing experience. It gave us the chance to apply what we were learning into real life. It really helped me and other students realize that we wanted to something in the astronomy field.” Jason, ‘2014 Media.