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November 6th was a typical chilly, fall morning in Springville, New York. The cold blustery winds whipped our faces, but we did not care - For we, were about to witness the test of an exciting experiment - the launch of a stratosphere balloon!
If successful, we, the students of Springville Griffith Middle school would be on our way to make history, by becoming the first middle school in America to conduct such an experiment at a cost of just $235USD !
We all watched with abated breath as two faculty members stood atop the school building and began the countdown - Ten, nine, eight, seven . . . . . . .zero!
Right on cue, the foam carton, attached to a vivid crimson parachute was tossed off the roof - As it met the ground, we all huddled around it - Eureka! it was a success! All our hard work had paid off!
We were now ready to begin preparations for launch of the Stratosphere Project, an experiment that involved sending a student-constructed balloon equipped with a camera, to the uppermost part of the stratosphere.
Dubbed SBI, it was inspired by a similar experiment conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and part of our newly implemented 'Student Enrichment Program' - an initiate to get students involved in projects that are fun and educational.
And while it may sound simple, we had to work on a lot of different aspects, starting from the construction of the balloon, which included figuring out how much it should be inflated. We also had to ascertain the size of the parachute and make sure that the styrofoam box that would carry the camera and GPS cell phone (so that we could locate it), was well-cushioned and also insulated, so that the devices would not be damaged or 'freeze' in the cold stratosphere (we used hand-warmers and lithium batteries).
We also had to keep track of wind currents and weather patterns to figure out the perfect launch date and, track the balloon as it flew away. Surprisingly enough, we even had to get permission from the Federal Aviation Authority to approve the design and, give us permission to fly.
Finally, on November 18th, we launched our balloon at 8.45 in the morning. While the launch was successful, we had to wait until 1.10pm when it was finally retrieved by three brave faculty members from a soybean field in Byron, NY, 50 miles away!
Now came the real test - was the camera intact? Had it reached the heights we had hoped it would? And most importantly, had it taken any good pictures? Yes! Yes and Yes!!
The camera was not only in perfect condition, but it had also taken over 2,000 photos, 1,500 of which were pristine and revealed incredible, breath-taking pictures of our beautiful planet.
While we were all ecstatic that the project was a huge success, we would have been satisfied even if it had not been - for not only did we have fun, we learned a lot especially about how to work as a team . . . . Not to mention, became the first middle school in America, to even attempt this awesome feat, without spending much money.
To view all the fabulous pictures of our stratosphere experiment, check out: www.springvillegi.org.