Chippewa Falls High School students launch their own weather balloon

By: Matt Hoffman Email
By: Matt Hoffman Email
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Chippewa Falls, WI (WEAU) -- While most kids from Chippewa Falls High School were sleeping in on their day off today, a dedicated group of students known as the High Altitude Balloon Club were taking their learning to new heights, literally.

After seeing a video online, physics teacher Nick Gagnon, got the inspiration for a new club at the school. The purpose was to launch their own weather balloon. He got the funding and after months of planning and preparation, this club of around 20 students, released it this morning.

"I think everything was a surprise as we went through this. You'd think it'd be something really simple like fill a balloon up and let it go. But the hard part is actually getting it back. There are a lot of technical issues we had to think about," says Gagnon.

"It was a lot more intricate than I thought it would be," explained Chippewa Falls senior Jacob Letender.

"It’s all one giant math and physics problem that we need to solve and work through, and it's been a great learning experience for the kids here today," says Gagnon.

And after all the hard work, it was time to let her go.
"I was really excited, but I was also kind of nervous because this is the moment of truth on whether we did everything correctly," explained Letender.

“That was really cool to see after weeks of planning. Going to the club and everything and working every single detail out and finally to see it rise up was really satisfying," says fellow classmate an Chippewa Falls Senior Keenan Denke.

The helium filled balloon carried a box filled with weather instruments...measuring temperature and pressure. The box was also fitted with a camera and GPS so the students could track their balloons journey into the stratosphere and back down.

"Coming into high school I didn't think I’d have the opportunity to do this, and I’m really grateful that we do," says Letender.

"It's one thing to see it on paper and to see all the science and you work through it. But it's another thing to go out there and see it in action," says Denke.

"As a teacher, I’m always hoping to bring what we do into the classroom or whatever we're doing into the classroom and make it real for them. So this is one of those real engineering projects that they can from start to finish they can take ownership in," explains Gagnon.

After spending the day tracking their balloon, they did end up finding it down in Wood County. They estimate the balloon made up to around 100,000 feet above the Earth’s surface. They were able to recover the box and they'll be able to analyze all the data. Gagnon says they're planning to launch another balloon this spring. This time the students will have control over the design.

Check out the link to the club’s website. You’ll find the path that the balloon took. Below are videos from the camera that was mounted on the box that the balloon carried.

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