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Klamath Falls Herald and News: In the shadow: OIT sends balloon to the stratosphere to film eclipse
Author: Gerry O'Brien, Herald and News
Posted: August 22, 2017

PSU scientists loaned Oregon Tech students a balloon for their eclipse study.

Read the original article in the Herald and News.

Oregon Tech students played a part in the national monitoring of the total eclipse as it passed over Salem, Ore., Monday morning.

About 15 students of the Wilsonville Campus and members of the Gravity and Space Research Club launched a high-altitude balloon that streamed live video of the eclipse as it happened.

“Once the balloon reached 50,000 feet, we could see the shadow of the eclipse coming across the Pacific Ocean as it reached the Oregon coast,” physics professor Leif Eccles told the Herald and News. Eccles, the daughter of Dr. Ralph Eccles of Klamath Falls, is an assistant professor in the natural sciences department and the club’s mentor. She’s been teaching there for seven years.

“The whole point of the experiment was to get students engaged in space-related projects,” Eccles said. “And get the public excited about the eclipse.”

The Eclipse Ballooning Project has been two years in the making. It was funded by a NASA grant through Montana State University — an engineering school — in Bozeman, Mont. Oregon Space Grant Consortium and Katherine Lanier helped immensely with this project, she added.

54 teams

The project consists of 54 teams of students at universities, high schools and high altitude ballooning groups from around the country. Along the path of totality, the teams flew payloads on about 100 high-altitude balloons, including payloads that streamed live video to the internet.

The project utilizes cutting-edge technology including Iridium and GPS satellites, lightweight radio modems, miniature computers, and live-streaming video. The balloons ascended to about 100,000 feet above the Earth. From this vantage point, at the edge of space, the live video captured the curvature of the earth and the blackness of space.

There was also a small microbiology experiment on top of the OIT balloon, placed there by Cornell University students as part of the NASA Balloon Project. Daniela Bezdan, research director and research associate with Mason Laboratory and affiliated with Weill Cornell Medicine and Alexa McIntyre, a PhD student in the same research group, led that project.

“Just prior to launching the balloon, they placed a small strip of micro bacteria on the balloon. They were the last to touch it and the first to retrieve it when the balloon came down,” Eccles said. “The experiment is to see how micro bacteria react at that altitude.”

Launch time

OIT students launched the balloon at 9:17 a.m., just about an hour prior to the expected full eclipse, Eccles said.

“The launch went really well. No major disasters,” she said.

The club had expected to use a 2,000-gram balloon, 6 feet in diameter. But in the days approaching the launch, extra weight was added to the project. Thankfully, Portland State University staff loaned the group a 3,000-gram balloon.

“That was the only glitch. They really helped us out,” Eccles said. Also, the plan had been to launch the balloon from Detroit Lake near Mount Jefferson, but the forest fire smoke forced the group to move.

Once up in the air at about 55,000 feet, the students could see the shadow of totality begin to mover across the state.

“We saw the shadow hit the Oregon coast. It was really incredible video,” Eccles said.

At 106,000 feet the balloon burst, as expected. A parachute was deployed to bring it back to Earth. It was expected to land about 15 kilometers south of Philomath.

When it becomes available, the school will post the live stream video once again for all to see. For more details, visit the team’s website.