On June 12, the science classes at Key Peninsula Middle School launched a weather balloon carrying a raw egg into space for the third time in five years, in an attempt to break their own altitude record while returning the egg safely to Earth.
KPMS set the current record with its first flight five years ago. “We got to 109,000 feet then,” said science teacher Richard Miller. That first egg touched down a day later in a wheat field in Eastern Washington.
“This balloon is rated for 115,000, so we’re hoping to make it that high,” Miller said.
In addition to the egg, this balloon carried a bright orange waterproof box full of electronics, a few gummy bears and a marshmallow. “We’ll also be studying how candy behaves in space,” Miller said.
“We’ve got plot-tracking devices and a Raspberry Pi connected to a bunch of sensors—temperature, pressure, humidity, altitude, GPS,” said Sky Bressette. “We’re going to have five GoPro cameras: one looking down, one looking up, three looking to the side, with one looking at the egg.”
Bressette is a KPMS alumnus and 2017 Peninsula High School graduate who has assisted with the launches since he was in Miller’s class five years ago. Raspberry Pi is a credit-card-sized computer that will be logging all the data, he said.
Two extra, independently powered tracking devices will also be along for the ride, given what happened in 2015.
“We lost the one from the year before for 500 and some days,” Miller said. “The flight went as expected and landed where expected; we just didn’t have any functional tracking devices to find it.”
The balloon’s payload was eventually found on Tiger Mountain by a hiker, who contacted Miller’s team.
“We had all of our power consolidated into one battery pack,” Miller said. “This time, we have independent power to all three tracking devices. This is a bigger balloon than we’ve ever sent, plus a lot better computer sensors.”
The balloon launched at approximately 2:30 p.m. and immediately headed northeast. It was expected to burst when it reached its maximum rated altitude of 115,000 feet.
“This year, the winds aloft are very still,” Miller said. “We’re thinking it’s going to land somewhere between University Place and Buckley, along that line.
“Once the balloon pops, it free falls and the free fall is pretty violent because there’s no atmosphere to slow it down,” he
said. “Once it hits the atmosphere, probably around 60,000 to 70,000 feet, the parachute deploys and it’s more gentle.”
Miller got the idea for an egg flight in his first year of teaching at KPMS, five years ago.
“We just needed something to get the kids engaged in science,” he said. “They’ve been helping with ideas about what to put on board and have used computer models to predict when it will burst and where it will land.”
Recalling her reaction when she first heard of the idea, Principal Jeri Goebel said, “It was more than your typical egg drop from the rooftop and we like to encourage creativity in our teachers. I thought it would be a great educational opportunity with a bit of a ‘wow’ factor for kids to use the science they are learning in class.”
Miller and his team recovered their latest balloon and payload later the same day of the launch from a back yard in Ruston, at the home of Tom Adams.
“Tom and his dog were weeding the garden when he heard a gentle ‘thump’ behind him—he didn’t even turn around,” Miller said. “Three or four minutes after landing, we were peeking over Tom's fence asking if we could pick up our orange box with a big balloon attached. Tom was very kind and let us right in.”
The balloon spent most of its flight directly over Artondale. Its maximum altitude was over 96,000 feet. The egg landed intact.
To view videos from the 2015 flight, go to YouTube and search for KPMS balloon launch.
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