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A Near-Space Flight for High School Students Participating in UNH Program

Hannah McCarthy/NHPR

Monday afternoon, high school students in a program with University of New Hampshire launched a weather balloon they designed and assembled themselves.

In the sweltering heat of a rest stop parking lot on I-89, the seventeen high school students in UNH's Space Science SMART program hovered around a three-foot neon orange and pink octagon. This was their flight vehicle, a large disc built by the group and equipped with a Geiger counter, cameras, and light wave, sun and temperature sensors. Attached to a huge, white weather balloon, it was just moments away from launch.

On site were a pick-up truck and school bus equipped with computers to receive data from the sensors, which the students will analyze and then present at the end of the week. Most students displayed a confidence of expertise in explaining the device. Coe Brown Northwood Academy rising senior Taylor Schroder, detailed the role of the light sensors on board.

There are five photometers on there -- infared, ultraviolet, red, blue, and green. Those photometers are going to give us the layout of the land, and what type of elements and what type of commonly occurring gases are coming from that area.

The students aim to better understand the atmosphere near space and test different ballooning technology. And this year, the balloon brought along UNH Professor Peter Bloser's prototype gamma ray sensor, intended to one day fly with space crafts. High school teacher Richard Levergood said the program can be a career path changer for some students.

I had a student in my physics program and she deided to major in electrical engineering at UNH because of it.

As three weeks and thousands of dollars worth of work drifted through the sky and out of sight, students scrambled to the school bus to chase the trajectory of the balloon before it popped at 96,000 feet. About two hours later, and 50 miles away, the re-entry vehicle came to a rest, safe and sound, in a tree in Northwood, NH. 

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