KOIN 6: High altitude eclipse ‘incredible’ for PSU students
Author: Amy Frazier and KOIN 6 News Staff
Posted: August 23, 2017

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PORTLAND, Ore. — As with thousands of other people, the total solar eclipse was an incredible and emotional experience for Rihana Mungin.

But this Portland State University senior mechanical engineering student had more invested in the eclipse than most people. She and other PSU students were involved in a nationwide-network of eclipse scientists who launched high-altitude weather balloons on August 21.

The 4 balloons from PSU were equipped with GPS tracking systems and cameras during the solar eclipse. Four of the 5 balloons are part of the students’ senior project.

The other balloon, designed to reach 100,000 feet in the air, was part of the Eclipse Ballooning Project funded by NASA, including 55 colleges and school teams from Oregon through South Carolina.

“Even though I’m tired, it was great,” Mungin told KOIN 6 News on Wednesday. “I feel wonderful. It was chaos, it was stress, but launching the balloons and then having the eclipse to kind of crown it was just like the perfect experience. I can’t even describe how good I feel.”

Since the eclipse, she and the others have been retrieving their balloons and getting some of their photos and data back.

Of the 5 balloons they launched, 3 landed in the Corvallis area. One still needs to be retrieved – they’re planning to get it Friday — and the other was lost at sea.

“If anyone is adventurous enough and wants to try and find it for us we will, we have a reward,” she said, laughing.

The rest of them landed within a 30-minute drive of Corvallis, where they were launched from the Oregon State University campus — in the path of totality.

GPS trackers kept the PSU team apprised of where the balloons were. “Once it gets to the point where we believe the balloon has landed we have our final GPS location,” she said.

Three of the balloons landed about 80 feet up in trees and she said the team “had to do some bush whacking” to get them back.

She showed KOIN 6 News one balloon that came back completely shredded. “We had no idea that this is kind of like pasta coming back down,” she said.

Mungin and the PSU team are impatiently awaiting the data, photos and video they collected. Seeing what the balloons saw, she said, “was unprecedented, absolutely unprecedented.”

They will have “probably over 100,000 pictures” when everything is accumulated. But she’s seen a few already.

“It’s just like this total emotional reaction to this photo of the curvature of the Earth with the sun blocked out by the moon, and the corona around it. It was just incredible!”