Local science students see their face in space
Thursday, May 23, 2013 11:33 am
Students from Ralph McCall School and members of the Airdrie Space Science Club (ASSC) weren’t the only ones excited to get the third flight of the Airdrie Balloon Experiment off the ground, May 18.
Their Grade 6 science teacher, Brian Jackson, a self-professed “card-carrying space geek,” could hardly contain his excitement as he prepared for the launch of the ABE 3 air balloon at the Beiseker Airport just after 8 a.m.
With help from three volunteer Amateur Radio Operators (ARO), 10 students and a dozen parents, Jackson sent the five-foot helium-filled balloon towards space. A small homemade pay load was attached to the bottom and packed with a peanut butter sandwich, a Lego man and temperature sensors. Pictures of the Grade 6 science class and members of the Airdrie Space Science Club were attached to the edge. A video camera was installed inside the payload to record what happens to the contents when the balloon is in motion and to capture the kids’ faces with space in the background.
“This is all about getting the students out of their seats, getting their hands on something and getting their brains working,” said Jackson, who says he likes to spearhead these events to “encourage authentic learning opportunities.”
Jackson launched the first Airdrie Balloon Experiment (ABE1) in October 2010 with the ASSC, sending a high altitude weather balloon to edge of the Earth atmosphere to take a picture of earth from 60,000 feet. The second experiment, ABE2, was held in May 2011 with the mission of taking a picture of Earth from 120,000 feet.
“For me, it’s all about getting the kids excited about space and about science,” said Jackson.
“I’m really interested in things like wind patterns, temperature changes and just basic scientific conditions,” said Sebastien Bernier, a young science enthusiast, who helped with the ABE3 balloon experiment.
Along with Bernier’s father, Francois, and volunteer ARO Nicholas Janzen, the team tracked wind conditions for three weeks to predict how far the balloon would travel and where it would land. It took two hours to reach more than 99,000 feet, expanding to about 30-feet wide before it burst and began to descend.
“As you go higher, the balloon tries to equalize the pressure between the inside and the atmosphere, so it starts to swell,” explain Jackson.
“Because we have such a perfect day – sunny and no clouds – the kids can actually see the balloon overhead if we follow its course.”
Using the tracking devices installed in the payload that showed the flight course online, the team followed the balloon in their vehicles as it travelled northeast for two hours. After a 45-minute descent, it landed in a farmer’s field five kilometres east of Three Hills.
“It’s so exciting to look around and see the looks on all these kids’ faces. To see them excited about a five-foot helium balloon is neat – that’s what every science teacher wants,” said Jackson.
The temperature inside the payload reached 155°F, cooking the peanut butter sandwich. Jackson said that his science class will talk about the results and think of ideas to improve the next experiment. The class and the Airdrie Space Science club have been preparing for the experiment for three months and building up funds for the $1,500 project for several years. Some of the sponsors included Callow & Associates, the Calgary Amateur Radio Association (CARA) and Weldco. GE Electric bought one of the video cameras and CARA donated one of the trackers used to follow the balloon.