Gateway: Living

Key Peninsula Middle School students reflect on historic balloon launch

After launch, a gaggle of excited KPMS students vents its enthusiasm.
After launch, a gaggle of excited KPMS students vents its enthusiasm. Special to the Gateway

Key Peninsula Middle School Science and Digital Photography teacher Richard Miller invited me to the launching of the school’s “biggest weather balloon yet.”

“We might get to 115,000 feet (22.7 miles) above Earth! We might break our own World Record for Highest Raw Egg to Return From Space Unbroken!” he proudly declared.

Nothing could stop me joining him, fellow staff members, and the entire KPMS student body on a beautiful sun-bathed day for another of these exciting adventures by KPMS, Washington state’s first NASA Explorer School.

Student Adriana Krell thought the balloon was “awesome! It was so cool to see it go up into the sky. Next year, I want it to go up to 100,000,000 feet. It was amazing seeing it for the first time.”

For schoolmate Jackson Sweet, the balloon “flew and broke the clouds like a beacon of our school.”

“The launch was great!’ declared student Eliza Brown. “It was fun to watch it take off but it did not get that far, nor did it land in a cool spot. It would be cool if it went further.”

The project was spearheaded by science teachers Miller, Chris Bronstad and Gary Alsin. A large weather balloon was used to carry a payload with five GoPro cameras, three tracking devices and a Raspberry Pi computer outfitted with various data logging sensors.

The balloon achieved a height of 96,148 feet before returning via parachute. Miller explained that the project was a treasure trove of scientific data including temperature, humidity, wind speed and humidity. The data will be integrated into the curriculum of future science classes.

“It was engaging and educational for our wonderful students,” he said.

Student Kate Jensen was “very thankful that I witnessed watching the balloon fly into the sky.”

For classmate Kaydince Winslowe, “the balloon launch was good but I want it to go further than just Tacoma. I want it to go to Alaska. I think next year we can get that balloon way, way, way further.”

Miller reports that, Jelly, the egg, visited the edge of space before softly landing in a West Tacoma backyard.

“The raw egg landed safely after a smooth launch from KPMS as part of an interactive science project,” he said. “We recovered the balloon after a very successful flight! Video, photos and data are AMAZING. Launch was a bit windy… The balloon spend most of it’s flight directly over Artondale. Max altitude over 96,000 feet. We broke the world record for highest Gummy Bear and Marshmallow ever sent to Space on a helium balloon!

“Each teacher/class was invited to use ½ of a sheet of copy paper and send a message on the balloon! Because weight is important, that was ½ sheet per class, not ½ sheet per student.”

Breanna Murphy “was really excited about the balloon/egg drop. Next year, I believe the balloon will go way high and the egg will last still.”

Classmate Amber Dalby “could not believe a balloon could carry cameras and more up to space. Next year I hope it will go even higher.”

Student Genevive Sootoo “thought the Weather Balloon was very cool to watch go up into the air to where it was barely a speck.”

For student Mackenzie Miller, “the balloon launch was really exciting and super cool because I’ve never seen one before. Next time I want the balloon to go further than just Tacoma, maybe, like, Seattle. Overall it was a really amazing experience.”

Kol High “thought the balloon would have gone higher but it went way up into the air where you could see the bend of the earth.” For Emma Lindhartsen, “It was amazing. The balloon was huge and went up so fast and not long after it was out of sight as it faded into the clouds.”

“It made a gentle landing in a backyard in Ruston, West Tacoma,” said Miller. “The owner and his dog were weeding the garden when he heard a gentle ‘thump’ behind him and thought it was the neighbors. He didn’t even turn around but his dog immediately came over and sniffed the probe while he kept weeding.

“Less than 3 to 4 minutes after landing, three of us got to watch it come down and were peeking over his fence asking if we could pick up our orange box with a big balloon attached,” said Miller. “He was very kind and let us right in. Super nice guy…”

Previous KPMS weather balloon launches were: 2013 – launched from KPMS; 2014 – launched from Mount Rainier; and 2015 – launched from KPMS, which latter merited a KOMO TV news story and a CNN news story.

For balloon photos from space, see the June 15 Gateway.

Student Cole Hutchison summed it up: “The balloon was something to do to make history at KPMS.”

And so it did!

Hugh McMillan is a longtime contributing writer for the Gateway. He can be reached at hughmcm26@gmail.com.

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