BRATTLEBORO -- Monday was a clear, hot day and the jet stream was perfect for launching a load of scientific instruments tethered to a weather balloon from a field at the UVM Extension on Old Guilford Road in Brattleboro.
Three students -- one each from New Hampshire, New Jersey and Los Angeles -- huddled around a Styrofoam package, making final checks of all the instruments prior to attaching them to the balloon, setting it loose on the breeze and crossing their fingers for a successful landing somewhere east of Brattleboro.
"I’m looking forward to getting the data back," said Andrew Mahn, of Hill, N.H., who heard about the University of New Hampshire’s Project SMART at the New England Fall Astronomy Festival. "I’ve done similar projects but they’ve gone up in rockets. With a balloon it’s a completely new experience. I’ll get a better understanding from start to finish."
According to its website, Project SMART, which stands for Science and Mathematics Achievement through Research and Training, challenges, educates and motivates talented high school students in science and mathematics while acquainting them with the environment and resources of UNH as a place for higher education and research.
Scott Goelzer, a high school physics teacher at Coe-Brown Academy in Northwood, N.H., and co-coordinator of the project, said the instruments in the package were meant to measure things such as radiation, temperature, altitude and air pressure.
Building and flying a mock satellite is just one of the tasks the students participating in the program get involved with, said Goelzer. "This will fly to the edge of space," he said.
In addition to the scientific instruments, the package also carried three cameras to document the flight -- one pointing sideways, one pointing up and one pointing down.
"This is part of a program where students do research at the Space Science Center at UNH," he said. "With this project they learned how to produce and integrate all the systems to take scientific measurements."
"I came to this program hoping to learn a little bit more about science and how it is done outside of the classroom and in the real world," said Malcolm LeClair, of Tenafly, N.J. "It gives me a better sense of what it really means to do scientific work."
Project Advisor Chuck Smith, a physics professor at UNH, said the package designed by the three students was meant to overcome a problem a previous class had with a similar project.
When the balloon burst, the parachute wrapped around the package and it crashed to Earth, he said. The package launched on Monday was made of Styrofoam and was designed to glide back to the ground, said Smith. "It’s its own reentry vehicle," he said.
They launched the balloon in Brattleboro because previous launches had ended up in the Atlantic Ocean, where they were lost.
"This is a great project," said Emerson Montano of Los Angeles. "It’s not so much like high school because we have more freedom, it’s more accelerated."
A few hours after launching, the balloon reached 105,000 feet, the balloon popped and the package came gliding back to Earth in Templeton, Mass.
After the data is collected, it will be posted on a website the students are creating as part of the course.
To learn more about Project SMART, visit www.smart.unh.edu.