MU students launch balloon experimentwww.columbiatribune.com
May 9, 2011
By Janese Silvey
Six ambitious University of Missouri freshmen spent the semester creating a plan to send a weather balloon up to capture images of Missouri from thousands of feet in the air.
On Tuesday, their balloon traveled 45 miles, capturing hundreds of breathtaking views of Missouri before landing in the river bottoms near Hermann. Images from a camera attached to the balloon captured scenes of quilted farmland, clear blue skies, the sun and, in a couple of cases, the strings holding the whole thing together.
With the exception of one, Columbia native Andrew Perry, all of the students are engineering majors. Perry, Timothy Hezel, Andrew Kitson, Pedro Ruiz Fabian, Mark Hansen and Logan Forsythe live in Wolpers Hall, linked by a common freshman interest group.
The hall is undergoing renovations after this year to become coed, and to commemorate its days of housing engineering students, the staff there posed a competition to residents. Only the six students were interested, though, so they decided to make it a team project instead.
Late in the afternoon Tuesday, after an earlier failed attempt, the young men filled their latex balloon with helium and sent it on its way. Attached was a Styrofoam package that carried the camera and a cellphone for GPS tracking.
Oh, and at the last minute, Forsythe had the foresight to attach some glow sticks in case they had to go searching for the dropped package in the night — which they did.
Figuring out how to solve basic problems while working as a team gives the students an edge as they advance in their college careers, said Richard Whelove, a resident instructor who served as a mentor to the team.
“I think the thing that really surprised me, No. 1, is that the origin of their group came from a desire to do this,” he said. “They’re really motivated students, and they really found out what teamwork takes. … They’ve experienced success in the form of a team, and that’s really crucial to engineers. Engineers don’t know everything, so they have to rely on team members who have other expertise.”
There were plenty of challenges, with perhaps the steepest hurdle being how to get the lightweight Canon camera to automatically snap pictures every 15 seconds. Kitson was the brains behind that: He figured out how to format the memory card, writing a unique script so it knew when to take photos and where to store them.
About five hours after they launched the balloon, the students drove to the GPS coordinates in Hermann to retrieve the package. Waiting to get home to see the photos on a laptop was the hardest part, they agreed.
“It was really exciting to get the pictures back,” Kitson said. “It was really cool to see some of them. Some looked really professional. It was a lot of fun, to say the least.”
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