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UNH has high school team reach the upper atmosphere

Union Leader Correspondent

July 26. 2012 12:08AM
Earth from an altitude of 20 miles as photographed by cameras onboard a scientific balloon launched by high school students participating in the University of New Hampshire's Project SMART on Monday. (Photo courtesy of Lou Broad)

DURHAM - A small group of high school students and their University of New Hampshire mentors successfully flew and recovered a scientific payload that had been carried aloft by balloon to 105,700 feet on Monday.

The payload then landed safely on a three-foot, dish-shaped, reentry vehicle built by the students using pink Styrofoam and cardboard and not a parachute, a first for the small ballooning community.

The balloon was launched by the students in Brattleboro, Vt., on Monday and rose at a rate of 1,000 feet a minute, reaching its maximum height an hour and 48 minutes later.

The balloon carried a miniscule Geiger counter to measure cosmic rays, an altimeter, two temperature sensors and three cameras, two of which were the size of a pack of gum.

During the flight, the students successfully obtained real-time measurements of changing levels of cosmic rays and changes in atmospheric temperature and pressure.

Onboard cameras captured images of a cloud-laden Earth against the blackness of outer space.

The four-pound reentry vehicle drifted 40 miles southeast and landed in rural Templeton, Mass. with the payload fully intact.

'The reentry vehicle was just sitting there as if someone had gently placed it on the ground,' student Andrew Mahn, a senior at the Sant Bani School in Sanbornton, said.

The experiment was part of the students' four-week Project SMART (Science and Mathematics Achievement through Research Training) summer residential program at UNH, which concludes this week.

The program is now in its 21st year and is designed to help spur high school juniors and seniors into careers in science and mathematics.

Students work with faculty in space science, marine and environmental science, and bio-and nanotechnology.

For the space science module each summer, physics teachers Lou Broad of Timberlane Regional High School in Plaistow and Scott Goelzer of Coe-Brown Northwood Academy guide the students through four weeks of lectures and research in conjunction with the UNH Space Science Center/Department of Physics faculty and staff. The balloon project and launch is the culmination of the summer's activities.

'This isn't a research project but, rather, it's an educational experience for these students. It's a simulated satellite project from design through construction, launch, flight and recovery,' Goelzer said.

But the whole experiment cost less than $1,000 and the process took just a few weeks from start to finish as opposed to the years required to design, build and launch a satellite.

Students participating in this year's space science module include junior Malcolm LeClair of Tenafly High School in New Jersey, junior Emerson Montano of Rolling Hills Preparatory School outside of Los Angeles and Mahn.

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Gretyl Macalaster may be reached at

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