Sooo … What Happened?

My 5th grade class sent up a high altitude balloon … well actually, Dr. Eric Wang from the University of Nevada, Reno, Mechanical Engineering Department and the NevadaSat program sent up a high altitude balloon from our playground with 2 payloads my class designed.

One of our payloads held 3 party balloons and a bag of Cheetos (a class favorite) to find out what effect air pressure would have on them. My students wrote up the experiment on their blogs and we put up a post on the teacher part of our blog soliciting others’ hypotheses of what would happen.


So what did happen? The balloon blown up to only about 1/4 size – green, was stretched almost to it’s breaking point:

The blue balloon which was inflated to about half size expanded so much in the low pressure of high altitude that it managed to intrude into the view of the camera mounted on the side of the payload at about 80,000 feet until it burst.

The orange balloon filled to full, more or less, pictured below at a fairly low altitude, burst first:

Here is a shot that shows the orange and blue balloons burst, and the green balloon expanding:

A great shot of Lake Tahoe from above 80,000 feet … just for fun:

And a couple of shots of the payload back in our classroom after recovery:

And here are links to almost all our photos:

These taken by my students of pre-launch and launch.

From our main camera payload (it is the payload with the balloons and chip bag on top):

And from the camera that was supposed to be trained directly on the payload with the balloons on top … but we seem to have had somewhat poor aim (but they are WAY cool anyhow!)

My students will be writing this up on their own blogs as well! Wait until you find out the story about where our balloon landed! But you’ll have to read my students’ blog posts about that next week to find out!

Learning is messy!!! (and a blast!)

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9 thoughts on “Sooo … What Happened?

  1. This has to be one of the most impressive school science experiments I’ve ever seen. Well done and a great blog too. I’m left wondering how you recovered the box with the camera!

    Hi Matt! – The university team does this all the time and they put a ham radio transceiver in one of their payloads. Not only does that allow them to track it, but it allows a Google Map to show it’s progress in real time. Here is a link to the Google Map … we launched one balloon from my school and 2 from another school simutaneously so you see 3 tracks here – It is truly incredible. – My class’s balloon is “KE7BQV-14” – for some reason the first half of the track doesn’t show up here, but if you click on the red dots it tells you the altitude and speed at that moment in time. You can see more about how things work by watching this video … I spend quite a bit of time discussing how we did a similar project last year:

  2. What happened to the Cheetos?!?

    Hi Max – look at the last 2 photos above of the recovered payloads. You can see that the Cheetos bag came back intact. I wish there was a photo that showed it up high, but we messed up our aim. I’m sure it plumped up … it is still sealed when you squeeze it. Hope that answers your question.

  3. Good things the Cheetoes survived, provided some post landing munchies? And we dont really need to spread orange coated styrofoam into earth orbit.

    What a a grand adventure, again Brian, showing us all what learning in action looks like.

  4. Nnooooooooo, you beat us! My high school engineering class (Jack E Singley Academy of Irving ISD. TX) is launching a space balloon in two weeks.
    Looks like your class did a great job. Hope our goes as well.

    Hi Michael – Plenty of folks beat us. It stopped being about who was first years ago I think. Now it’s about what are the possibilities? What can be learned from what went well and from what didn’t go well? How do we involve others in this kind of project? How do we incorporate other subjects? For us elementary teachers this project is ripe with possibilities!

    Have a good launch!!!

  5. Oh I know, This is my students first attempt at a space balloon. Every year I break them up into teams of 10 – 12 students. This year we had three teams. Team 1 designed and built rocket to carry a one pound payload to one mile. Team 2 went for a transonic rocket, and team 3 is going for the space balloon. All three are great projects, but team 3 was is a little down now that they know that your 5th grade class has already done it. It’s a good lesson for them.

  6. Hey my name is Christy Hayes and I am a student in Dr. Strange’s EDM310 at the University of South Alabama. This science project is so cool. The pictures were great as well since it showed us what the pressure does to the balloons and how long they lasted. This would be a great experiment for any science class at any grade level to experience. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.