Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 25, 2013

Traverse City West students launch weather balloon

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — A weather balloon launched by students at West Senior High School demonstrated a core principle of physics.

What goes up must come down.

West teacher David Kirby’s physics extended topics class launched the balloon on Friday. Kirby’s pupils spent the morning filling the balloon with helium and loading several experiments into a box attached to the inflated sphere.

Dozens of other students and school staffers gathered on the high school’s practice football field to witness the launch. The crowd called out a countdown, then watched the balloon sail skyward with surprising speed at about 10 a.m.

Students estimated the weather balloon’s ‘up’ could reach an altitude of 100,000 feet.

”It’s going up to the stratosphere, past the jet stream,” junior Abby Gudith said.

The ‘down,’ specifically where the weather balloon eventually would land, was a little harder to predict; it was floating south at an altitude of about 5,000 feet and a speed of about 35 miles per hour minutes after the launch, according to a smartphone app that tracked a GPS attached to the balloon.

Gudith and senior Kevin Brefka expected the balloon to remain airborne for between 1.5 and three hours. Students planned to then use the GPS app to locate and gather the downed balloon, regardless of where it landed.

”I think we’ve got someone who can climb a tree in this class,” Brefka said.

The class will review information gathered by a flight computer, which records factors ranging from pressure and temperature to altitude and speed, and observe the results of the simple experiments attached to the balloon.

The experiments boiled down to exploring how common objects, including a fluorescent light bulb, a marshmallow and a can of pop, change as they move through different temperatures and levels of air pressure.

Kirby’s class spent about nine weeks designing the balloon and the experiments. The process required a lot of problem-solving, said Gudith, who was thrilled to see the balloon finally climb into the atmosphere.

The launch coincidentally occurred on the last day of school for West seniors. Senior Payden Myers spoke highly of Kirby, whom students affectionately referred to as “Kirb,” the weather balloon project and the opportunity to spend his last morning in high school working outside in the sun with his classmates.

”I don’t think there’s anything greater in the world,” Myers said.