PELLA, Iowa — The Jefferson Intermediate School 5th graders have been on the trip of a lifetime, four times around the globe. But they’ve not left Pella, they’ve traveled via their experiment of a helium-filled balloon they sent to over 40,000 feet.
It caught the jet stream, and went across the Atlantic, and across Africa, the Middle East, China, Russia, Japan, and back from the west to the United States. It’s done that four times.
“The students get to see engineering in action which is really I think neat to see from their perspective,” said Joshua Steenhoek, Science Teacher at the school. “Not always does an investigation happen to work out, we had to figure out some of the background of why previous launches were less successful.”
The project was given a boost from the Pella Amateur Radio Club. That group has assisted with balloon launch experiments here for several years.
“We have a friend that’s retired from jet propulsion laboratory and it spent most of his career working for NASA,” said Jim Emmert, of the Pella Amateur Radio Club. “He is the one that designed and built all these boards.”
The tiny electronic board and solar panels weigh just 12.5 grams or the weight of two pennies. The system computer can detect which country it is flying over, and transmit on the proper frequency. It also detects certain countries where this type of transmission is banned, like North Korea, and Iran. It puts the transmitter on silent when over that airspace.
The students and anyone can track the balloon’s progress via this website, which takes reports from ham radio operators around the globe, who upload data about the track of the balloon to the website.
“We launched it and we learned about the jet stream, and then we launched it and tracked it around the world with this like mini computer thingy,” said Della Hasseltine, a Pella 5th Grade Student.
“It’s such a big world, it’s incredible how this small balloon, went all the way all that around the world,” said Sam Manning, a Pella 5th Grade Student.
“We’re just about learning how to make a balloon go around the world, and see where I can go and how far can make it,” said Ellie Smock, a Pella 5th Grade Student.
At last check on Wednesday the balloon was missing, it had not checked in on-line for several days. It is thought it may be over Morocco at this point.