Science projects will fly sky-high and then some above Maricopa, Ariz. on Saturday, April 30.
The projects, which were designed and built by 5th-grade through high-school students, will soar 19 miles above the desert to near-space altitudes beneath high-altitude balloons. Each payload will include a digital camera, thermometer, pressure sensor, heater and altimeter.
The students hope to get photos and data on atmospheric pressure and air temperature from both the ascent and descent as the balloons climb to 100,000 feet.
This data will provide a detailed look at atmospheric conditions above an area of Arizona, but not until the students chase down the balloon payloads and recover the instruments.
"I know we are going to drive a while," a 5th grader from Flagstaff wrote in her lab journal. "We are driving an SUV. When the balloon pops we are going to look at the pictures."
Launch is set for 8 a.m. from Maricopa School, 45012 Honeycutt Ave. Then the chase begins. Once the payloads are recovered, the students and their teachers will regroup at field headquarters -- the Grace Inn Hotel, 51st St., Phoenix -- around 5 p.m. to analyze the data and get a look at what they hope will be eye-popping aerial photos.
The young scientists, who come from six schools, are participating in "Changes in Altitudes," a program designed to involve Native American students and those from rural schools in space-exploration projects.
More than two dozen students have been building the high-altitude experiments for the past few months and keeping Web logs that record their successes and failures. Their journal entries are posted on UA's Phoenix Mission Web site, http://phoenix.lpl.arizona.edu/features/weblogs/balloonsat/. The Phoenix Mission, which is funding Changes in Altitudes, is a NASA Scout mission scheduled for launch in August 2007. It is slated to land on Mars in May 2008.
"Teams of four students and one teacher collaborate with members of Arizona Near Space Research (ANSR) during the Changes in Altitudes program to build small experiments that analyze the properties of the Earth's atmosphere," said Doug Lombardi, education and public outreach manager for the Phoenix Mission. ANSR is a volunteer organization of high-altitude balloon enthusiasts.
"The Phoenix Mission education/public outreach program and the Arizona Space Grant Consortium hope to establish a permanent Changes in Altitudes program that could be maintained at minimal cost at many Arizona schools," Lombardi added. "Schools from across the state are now applying for the next year's five new slots."
As many as 26 Arizona schools could be involved in the program by 2009, Lombardi said.
Northern Arizona University's Space Grant program originally developed Changes in Altitudes as part of a larger Arizona Space Grant Consortium project involving UA, NAU and Arizona State Univeristy. The project built on an idea articulated by UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory Director Michael Drake, director of the Arizona Space Grant Consortium. The idea was to use satellites to give students who normally aren't involved in space-related projects a chance to get hands-on experience with space science.
NAU physics and astronomy Professor Barry Lutz, associate director of the Arizona Space Grant Consortium, coordinates the project statewide. NAU administrative associate Kathleen Stigmon is responsible for fiscal management and logistics. Arizona Space Grant Consortium Program manager Susan Brew coordinates the project for UA.
The six participating schools and the teacher contacts are:
- Deer Valley High School (Phoenix), Brian Bingham
- Sabino High School (Tucson), Mark Calhoun
- DeMiguel Elementary (Flagstaff), Mary Lara
- Bullhead City Jr. High (Bullhead City), Lynda Matheson
- Vail High School (Vail), Christine Tokarz
- Camp Verde High School (Camp Verde), Matt Malloy
For more information about the program, and how schools can apply, visit the Web site http://www.spacegrant.nau.edu/balloon_satellite/changes_in_altitudes.htm