Read the original article in The Oregonian here.
When he thought about a project the Tualatin High School robotics team should tackle this year, team captain Matthias Weislogel wanted one that could replicate real work experience, demand applied mathematics and calculations and leave a legacy of excellence.
He thought about a weather balloon.
At the beginning of the school year, Weislogel proposed the idea to robotics team members, who enthusiastically agreed and the real work began to make the launch a reality.
On Friday, the team launched a balloon that rose 120,000 feet into the upper stratosphere. The balloon carried two high-definition cameras programmed to take pictures of the Earth's topography, its curvature and of space.
"I wanted to do something that's never been done before, something that just relies on cameras," said Weislogel, 17. "I wanted to do a full-fledged project, one that would give back to the school and leave a mark for our team. I think and know this program will give kids such a head start for college and work beyond."
The cameras were programmed to take pictures at a rate of one per minute for the first 80,000 feet, then 1.2 per second for the rest of the ascent. When the cameras are recovered, which hadn't happened by Monday, the team plans to stitch the images together into a 24-gigabyte hemispherical projection, the first of its kind.
"Nobody's ever done it before," said Weislogel, whose father, Mark, is a Portland State University mechanical engineering professor and veteran of many past launches. PSU helped the team with the project, supplying the balloon, hydrogen to fill it and other expertise.
Two days before the launch, the project was in jeopardy when the cameras failed to arrive on time. As members scrambled to find replacements, the wayward cameras turned up Thursday and the project was back on track.
Launch day started at 4 a.m. for team members John Cameron and Eric Goessens, both seniors, who consulted meteorological websites, trying to predict where the balloon would land. With the sun still two hours from rising and in 47-degree weather, robotics team members gathered in a field behind Tualatin High to make final preparations for the launch.
"This is serious stuff. I'm really impressed with what these kids are doing," school board member Barry Albertson said as he watched with other members of the school board, teachers and dozens of community members.
The latex weather balloon measured seven feet before launch but would swell to more than 60 feet as the hydrogen molecules inside it expanded during the ascent. It was tethered to a plastic foam box containing the two cameras, two GPS trackers, a tracker used to follow hunting dogs and a ham radio.
A misty, gray morning greeted the launch Friday of the Tualatin High robotics weather balloon.
A tetrahedron parachute, nicknamed the Dragahedron, attached to the box was designed to slow the package's descent after the balloon burst. The team estimated the package would hit the ground at about 30 miles per hour.
Twenty minutes after launch, three chase vehicles headed toward Estacada, the possible landing site according to early morning predictions. It soon became apparent that the balloon was going to land farther afield and the caravan continued east.
At 10:21 a.m., GPS tracking equipment showed the package hit the ground 14 miles east of Condon, more than 170 miles from Tualatin. With no cell service in the area, team members are hoping to get a signal from a second GPS, when its satellite is in alignment, to guide them to the package.
Once the package is retrieved the real work begins, said team member Brian Hillenbrand, a junior who has the job of assembling the composite images.
When the images are assembled, the team plans to make large picture boards to display in the school's technology wing to commemorate their achievement.
"This team of kids is phenomenal. They stress working together positively even when things are very stressful," said Robotics adviser Jill Hubbard. "The current leaders are so positive. They want to work together to make something bigger than us."
Besides Weislogel, Hillenbrand, Goessens and Cameron, the team includes senior Mark Babich, junior Brandon Phillips, senior Connor Thurman and junior Sarah Williams.
"You don't have to be the smartest people to join this club," Weislogel said. "If you work hard and listen to the mentors, you can do stuff you never thought you could do. This year one of our major goals as a team is to leave a solid template of what we've done, so there's a smooth transition for the team next year."