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Heritage Middle School launches balloon to edge of space

The Launch Team at Heritage Middle School prepares for take-off.

Thaddeus Schwartz, Carter Gillenwater, and Deborah Shrum secure the balloon, while Oscar Pennell, Micah Pressnell, and Samuel Lewis hold the equipment stationary.
Photos by Kerri Bartlett

Heritage Middle School in Thompson’s Station entered the Space Race Wednesday afternoon about 2 p.m. on the football field as 810 students gathered to watch the prestigious Heritage Launch Team launch a weather balloon, or observation platform, on a journey to touch the edge of the blackness of space.
Using a satellite tracking system called Spot Me, the observation platform attached to the balloon was tracked from launch to landing. The team calulated the probe to land somewhere near Lewisburg, Tenn. Wednesday evening. However, it ended up landing in Tullahoma, Tenn.

"It was a 'smashing' success," Thaddeus Schwartz said, who served as one of the mastermind teachers who helped to lead the project with Deborah Shrum and Kara Sklenka.
“The purpose of the project is to reach the outer limits of the atmosphere,” Connor Kavanagh, sixth-grader said yesterday at the launch. 
“We also wanted to show that kids can do this,” Brittany Baker, sixth-grader, said. 

Mastermind Thaddeus Schwartz (middle), social studies teacher, led the launch project. Schwartz with Deborah Shrum, teacher (left) and Carter Gillenwater of the Launch Team.

The helium-filled latex balloon carrying a platform of scientific instruments tripled in size to about 30 feet wide as the atmosphere thins. At its apex, the adventurous balloon was predicted to rise to about 19 miles above sea level – high enough to see the blackness of space and the curvature of the Earth – before bursting. Then a parachute deployed to return the tattered latex and instrumentation safely back to the ground.
Using crafty math the Launch Club calculated the trajectory of the balloon’s flight path, which can be tracked by Google Earth.
Just as many notable scientists before them, students had to think quickly when everything did not go as planned. “We failed on the first try in tying the flight line,” said Nic LaPaglia, seventh-grader at the launch. “Now I know what it’s like for NASA scientists when a project doesn’t work according to plan.”
“However, the next time, we tied it with more precision. It just took some time to work out kinks,” LaPaglia and German Schwartz, seventh-grader said. 
An eighth grade social studies teacher, Schwartz, tracked the balloon throughout its trip. He has always been into a little bit of everything he said – music (with a degree from Belmont), science and computers. “I’m a geek,” he said. “I love science and loved going to space camp when I was a kid.”
Schwartz said that the students will be working on a documentary next week to remember their hard work on the project.

The Heritage Middle School Launch Team includes Connor Kavanagh, Sam Craig, Brent Lane, Eli Smietana, German Schwartz, Jacob Donnelly, Nick Hoagland, Brittany Baker, Micah Pressnell, Shelby Tull, Ian Kenyon, Zachary Dodds, Nic LaPaglia, Samuel Lewis, Carter Gillenwater, Oscar Pennell, Jeffery Lowe, Harold LaCroix, and Jonathan Warden.


Heritage Middle Launch Team members prepare to launch an observation platform to the edge of space and back. (From left) Carter Gillenwater, Micah Pressnell and Samuel Lewis.

Up, up and away to the edge of space and back again. 

The adventurous balloon snapped a photo as it reaches the edge of Earth, shortly before the latex split (as planned) and fell back to the ground near Tullahoma, Tenn., about 60 miles to the southeast of Franklin.

The Launch Team retrieves the observation equipment. 

Posted on: 5/8/2013


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