So now we really have been into Space – well we’ve sent our names outside the stratosphere! What another amazing day at Rode Heath Primary – all courtesy of our Out of This World project.
Tuesday was the launch of our Ballistic Balloon Mission, named in our February Google Hangout by astronaut, Tim Peake. The weather was just about perfect, wind speed 5mph and the sun was almost shining. I had spent the night before making sure that the batteries were charged for the data loggers and that the SD card was formatted and lithium batteries inserted in the Black Box. Everything was ready.
Alex and Chris from Sent into Space (http://sentintospace.com/) arrived just after 9am to deliver a brief assembly for the whole school before setting up their equipment. The children were very excited and eager to learn the science behind the launch. Some excellent questions were both answered and asked by a range of pupils – some as young as four – who wanted to know how fast the balloon was going to travel; whether it would burn up when returning to Earth & how Chris & Alex would be able to find it. They were intrigued to learn that Alex would be holding a large antenna out of the window of the car as Chris was driving!
In the end we had to stop proceedings as we were in danger of missing the launch time! Alex and Chris needed at least half an hour to check the equipment and secure the camera and trackers inside the payload – with gaffer tape no less – so we had to let them proceed.
Indeed, the children were not the only ones to be interested in the event. As we trooped out of assembly, a group of reporters from various local newspapers, a film crew from the LEA and John Acres from BBC Radio Stoke, were waiting to speak to us. John was the first to carry out an interview, as he wanted to send his material back to the radio station to be broadcast at different points during the day. Hermione Pugh and Hannah Taylor from Year 5 were chosen to speak to him.
John was hilarious – quite brilliant with the two girls. He almost convinced Hermione that she was going to have to try and fit in the payload. If you want to listen to the whole interview then follow this link to the recording https://outofthisworldproject.com/bbc-radio-stoke-balloon-coverage/
At 11:00 the whole school were summoned outside to watch the balloon being filled with helium. I hadn’t realised that it actually takes about half an hour to do this. We all stood on the school field, behind strategically placed cones and watched, transfixed, as the white latex expanded and grew to about 3m in diameter. Then the parachute was attached and finally the payload, beautifully decorated with the winning mission patch stickers – Tim Peake had previously tweeted that it was the ‘prettiest payload he had ever seen’.
Jack Castle from Year 5 was the lucky pupil whose number had been chosen to release the balloon. There was a decisive countdown and with 200 pupils and numerous parents and staff eagerly watching, Jack let go and the balloon and payload hurtled upwards at more than 5m per second to the cheer of the crowd. All too soon, it had completely disappeared and was on its journey into the blackness.
Now the waiting began. . .
Inside the payload were two data loggers, each complete with SIM cards and telephone numbers. These were their means of tracking the load. Calling the SIMs would result in a text message giving precise coordinates of its current location. Also inside the polystyrene container was another box, collecting all sorts of data, such as temperature, altitude and pressure. This allowed us to monitor in real time (on a laptop) the rate of ascent and how high the balloon reached before it finally popped at an increased diameter of 10m.
We hit 106,980 feet in a 2.5 hour flight and landed 29 miles away a little to the north west of Matlock – but unfortunately for Alex and Chris, the payload didn’t quite land on the ground!
I received an email from Chris well after dark saying that it had taken about 4 hours to retrieve the payload from a 120+ foot tree. The reason that it took such as long time was that they had to climb 3 trees in total, as there were no branches low down on the tree it was in, or the one next to it – that’s real dedication for you.
We are waiting with trepidation for tomorrow morning when Alex and Chris will hopefully bring the actual footage to Rode Heath for us to look at. Be sure that it will be posted on this website for everyone to see.