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Mill Creek launches weather balloon that lands near Fort Payne

Fifth-grade science students at Mill Creek Elementary School prepare to launch their weather balloon. (CONTRIBUTED)
Fifth-grade science students at Mill Creek Elementary School prepare to launch their weather balloon. (CONTRIBUTED)

The Fischer Rescue Squad retrieved Mill Creek's balloon about one-half mile off U.S. Hwy. 11 near Fort Payne. (CONTRIBUTED)
The Fischer Rescue Squad retrieved Mill Creek’s balloon about one-half mile off U.S. Hwy. 11 near Fort Payne. (CONTRIBUTED)

MADISON – Fifth-grade science students at Mill Creek Elementary School launched a high-altitude balloon that required a rescue effort.

Fifth-grade teacher Jackie Smith wanted students to conduct an in-depth, hands-on experiment to learn more about Earth’s atmosphere and its layers. For this experiment, she applied for and received a grant from Huntsville Association of Technical Societies (HATS).

The Science and Technology Education and Training (STEDTRAIN) committee with HATS administers seed grants of $1,000 to educators. This grant was the seventh one that Smith has received from HATS STEDTRAIN.

“Our first launch attempt was scrubbed due to a low helium tank and high winds,” Smith said about the balloon she bought from Skyprobe.com.

Students captured and stored the balloon in Mill Creek’s two-story rotunda school. They refilled the helium tank and then re-calculated the flight path for another launch.

They attached a SPOT GPS tracker that returned longitude and latitude coordinates at five-minute intervals.

Their balloon flew to a mountainside near Fort Payne. A parent volunteer tried to retrieve the balloon, but the terrain was too treacherous to attempt on foot.

“The Fischer Rescue Squad retrieved the balloon about one-half mile off U.S. Hwy. 11,” Smith said. “They had to go down a very deep slope and hike back up to the balloon. It was about 50 feet up in a tree that had to be cut down to retrieve the balloon.”

From the flight, students collected weather and altitude data and “some amazing video footage recorded as the balloon climbed into the atmosphere,” Smith said.

The Mill Creek students especially enjoyed this project because they selected the project component most interesting to them. Teams handled purchasing, video and photography, meteorology, flight path prediction, launch control, technology and mission patch design.

By project end, all teams worked collaboratively “just like real engineers,” Smith said. “They were vested in the project … to solve real-world problems,” like the balloon’s helium content, weight added to the payload box and best launch conditions.

For more information about HATS, visit stedtrain.org.

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