A tan balloon slowly bobbed higher and higher over a group of eighth graders outside Central Christian School Wednesday.
The students witnessed the hydrogen weather balloon launch as a culmination of their studies on weather in Jay Walter’s Earth science class. The balloon floated to an altitude of around 100,000 feet, gathering data and sending it back to the school as it journeyed from Hutchinson to a point between Alma and Herington.
“Students heard about the technology part of the balloon, and learned a little about the physics of the balloon and how it goes up,” Walter said. “And we discussed temperature changes with altitude and other things that reinforce the concepts from studying weather in class.”
Zack Clobes of Project: Traveler launched the balloon — something he’s done many times before.
“About 1999, a group from K-State came to town and did one,” Clobes said. “I caught the bug and set out to do my own. Along the way, I added my own spin.”
He built his own circuit boards, designed the data-gathering software and more to create his own setup, and soon after formed Project: Traveler. His daughter is in Walter’s eighth grade science class and asked if Clobes would do a launch at the school.
Clobes launches balloons mainly as a hobby but has worked with schools in the past. He said there are groups throughout the nation and world that launch balloons, and many work with schools and universities.
The balloon launched from Central Christian was equipped with gear to measure things like altitude, speed and direction, temperature and air pressure.
“That’s all I had on this flight,” Clobes said. “People have flown everything from Geiger counters to video and infrared cameras and more, though.”
The students’ learning didn’t end with the launch. The data collected by the balloon will be used in the classroom to create and interpret graphs.
“We just got new Chromebooks through our community grant, and we’ll use those to put the data to use in the classroom,” Walter said.
After reaching full altitude, the balloon burst and floated back to Earth, continuing to collect data on the way down.