Balloon Science

To engage students in the August 2017 solar eclipse, NASA created the eclipse ballooning project, which invites students across the country to conduct high altitude balloon flights that capture the astronomical event. See what images of the Great American solar eclipse were captured by students at Lenoir-Rhyne University.

TRANSCRIPT

To engage students in the August 2017 solar eclipse, NASA created the Eclipse Ballooning Project, which invites students across the country to conduct high-altitude balloon flights to capture the astronomical event.

See what images of the great American solar eclipse were captured by students at Lenoir-Rhyne University.

That's the one that stream.

That's the money maker there.

Yeah.

So if that one works, it should...

For the members of Lenoir- Rhyne University's Solar Eclipse High-altitude Balloon team...

[Indistinct] my terminator.

We've got to make a hole for that...

...one year of work has come down to this moment...

Yeah!

Yay!

Woo!

...the great American total solar eclipse.

As the Moon begins its dance to block out the Sun, the rare breaks in the clouds covering the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute give earthbound observers a reason to cheer.

But for the students, the darkening sky signals launch time.

[ Indistinct conversations ]

After a final check of instruments...

Going in ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, launch.

Let it go.

Let it go.

Let it go.

Let it go.

Let it go.

Let it go.

...the team lets its hopes soar with its balloon and payloads.

Destination -- astronomical awesomeness at 90,000 feet.

Lenoir-Rhyne is one of more than two dozen universities working with NASA to capture images of the eclipse with high-altitude balloons.

Everything went well.

Everybody did their job.

A lot of nerves, a lot of stress, but in the end, I mean, the result was awesome.

The helium-filled latex balloon climbs quickly, about 1,000 feet per second.

It carries video and still cameras, computers for live streaming, a GPS tracking system and instruments measuring temperature, altitude and wind speed.

Students designed and built all three of the payload packages.

Together, those packages couldn't exceed 6 pounds.

It went down to close to 64, near Brevard, then it turned around, went back past us and flipped the other way into Wolf Mountain.

The tracking system indicates strong upper-level winds.

The balloon travels far and wide as well as high, and all that buffeting takes a toll.

The servers, which lock in the video transmission systems, go down.

And then when it goes off, rotate until it seems like maximized, tilt until it maximizes.

Students must manually follow the balloon to receive images from the cameras.

Do one axis... These are independent axes.

Do one of them at a time.

This works for a lot of alignment.

As long as you got independent axes, this is what you're going to... Max one.

Max the other...

And where was it launched from, right there?

From right here.

Okay.

It's kind of going east.

All right.

It's going towards Brevard.

Okay.

And we should have...

And there's the picture.

Oh, my gosh.

You're above the clouds.

Mm-hmm.

Wow.

[Indistinct] Yeah.

The balloon reached more than 90,000 feet, higher than any test balloon had flown, and it reached that point just as the shadow of totality covered the ground station.

Clouds blocked any view of the eclipse from the ground, but an eerie darkness fell over everything.

Daytime in the distance, nighttime at base camp.

[ Applause ] The birds started singing as the sun reappeared, and as the data stream showed the balloon popped in the vacuum of space and was heading to earth, the team assessed what it had learned.

It went well.

It pretty much burst at totality, which is... I couldn't have timed that better.

That was luck.

Could you see totality or could you see the eclipse on the streaming?

It was pretty much out of range.

Okay.

It got out of range at about 80,000 feet, and it was at 99,400 was our last recorded value before it burst...

Okay.

...which is pretty amazing.

And the balloon project captured amazing images.

That dark spot is the shadow of the Moon on the Earth.

It was one of the primary goals for the team.

So...successful?

Successful.

Very successful.

Are you proud of the team?

They did a great job.

They worked well together.

They technically were proficient, and gee, they're fun to be around.