On May 20, 2012 we attempted to launch two crafts, the Space Panther One and the Space Panther Two. Panther One was equipped with a 3D camera and a device to measure internal and external temperatures, ultraviolet light exposure and wind speed. Panther Two was equipped with one video camera, one camera to take still photos, several student experiments to measure the affects of high altitude on seeds, algae and blood, as well as devices measuring cosmic radiation, temperature, wind speed, humidity and acceleration on three axes. The crafts were the result of months of hard work and determination by students in grades 6-9.
May 20th turned out to be a very windy day in Northern California. We were well prepared for the launch, but the wind turned out to be our worst enemy in trying to launch the balloons. After the original balloon for Panther One popped for unknown reasons during the launch prep, we quickly grabbed a back-up balloon, tapped into our reserve helium and we were back in business.
At 5:00 pm the balloons were brought out onto the “tarmac” for launch. We often hear about NASA aborting missions only seconds before lift-off, and what we quickly realized was that our projects were also subject to the same kind of unforeseen variables and setbacks. Just as we were about to give the countdown for launch, the balloon attached to Panther Two burst as a result of the difference in air pressure caused by the high winds.
This was a big disappointment for the team, but immediately we scrambled to get Panther One off the ground. Repositioning the balloon to a safer location and with a quick countdown from the crowd, the Space Panther One was released. The winds were keeping the balloon from a strictly vertical ascent and it moved horizontally across the campus towards trees and power lines. The crowd audibly held its breath as the craft appeared to be headed for certain catastrophe. At the last moment the wind let up and the craft lifted itself above the obstructions, within inches of the trees, and was off. With a cheer from the crowd, it was clear that the mission would still be a success.
Panther One traveled southeast across the Anderson Valley and rose slowly up into the cloudless sky. Because of the slow ascent and excellent visibility, the crowd was able to spot the balloon for at least half an hour after launch. The balloon caught the upper-altitude wind currents and began heading northeast. Original projections put the balloon landing somewhere in the northern Mendocino National Forest, but because of the slow ascent, the winds had time to push the balloon a whopping 87.2 miles! It burst at an estimated altitude of 35 km above the surface of the earth. The parachute successfully deployed and it made a gentle landing in an almond orchard just west of Chico, California, having traveled over twice as far as any of our previous balloons!
Panther Two unfortunately never made it off the ground. This is only a minor setback, as all it will take is a new balloon and helium to get it ready for a new mission. Panther Two also had contained the camera that would snap photos of the eclipse from high-altitudes, so we unfortunately missed that opportunity.
Panther One was recovered the next day and it brought back a wealth of valuable data for study. The video camera brought back stunning 3D video of the first hour of flight. We unfortunately again encountered a problem with humidity inside the craft so the upper altitudes of the flight are obscured by camera fogging. While the video shows the darkening of the earth during the eclipse, the video unfortunately lacks the clarity we desired.
The Eclipse 2012 Mission was a valuable learning experience for teachers and students alike. The students demonstrated remarkable dedication and teamwork, even in the face of major problems and setbacks. While we did not get the all of the imagery and data that we had originally intended, what we did get is excellent data for planning the next mission. The most valuable thing that was gained from the project was the experience and knowledge that only comes with trying something new. These experiences will lead us to create better projects in the future and raise new scientific questions for future study.
Video is currently being processed and rendered, but here's a preview of the first several minutes of the flight of the Space Panther One: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMhE3Xo-Wm8&list=HL1337793704&feature=mh_lolz
Because of the generous support we received for this project, we have all of the equipment necessary for many more balloon launches. We will keep you posted on our future missions. Check for updates at our website: www.BoonvilleSpaceProgram.org.
Donors will be receiving thank-you letters and stickers in the mail soon. We will be sending out the rest of the rewards for our donors this summer. The t-shirt, DVD and photos should be sent out in late July or early August. If your mailing address changes before that time, please let us know.
The Eclipse Mission launches tomorrow, May 20. All systems are go and the weather looks good for a 5:00 pm release of the two spacecraft, the Space Panther One and the Space Panther Two. The Panther One will be taking 3D HD video and collecting data including wind speed, temperature and Ultraviolet light. The Panther Two will be taking both still pictures and video, while collecting wind speed, temperature, humidity and radiation information, and in addition will be tracking distance, altitude, velocity and acceleration on three axes. Both crafts will contain a variety of student experiments measuring the effects of high altitude conditions on seeds and cells.
The two crafts are expected to reach their peak altitude of 30-40km during the peak of the solar eclipse at 6:30 pm. We will be launching from Anderson Valley High School in Boonville, CA. All are welcome!
We will post an update sometime soon after the launch. Thank you for your support!
The Boonville Space Program is getting ready for Launch Day! We still have a lot of work to do, but we'll be ready on May 20th!
We just returned from the California State Science Fair where our students competed against 993 other students throughout the state. Unfortunately we did not win any awards, but one of our program leaders, Jacob Bagnell, won the award for California State Science Fair Teacher of the Year! This was an amazing honor and you can see the video of the award here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7y2Pz3RouWk
We have made some small changes to the launch details: we will be launching two balloons instead of three for logistical reasons, and we will be launching from slightly outside the path of greatest eclipse. We will still be able to capture spectacular photo and video, but we will be launching from our school to get the community involved in the project. All backers are invited to come and participate in the launch with us in Boonville, California! email email@example.com for details if you think you can attend!
We'll continue to keep you posted!