Press Release

NASA and Students Partner for High Altitude Research

By SpaceRef Editor
May 11, 2005
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NASA and student researchers at four universities combined efforts to analyze characteristics of the Earth’s atmosphere from a one-of-a-kind, high-flying laboratory. At the same time, grade school students are conducting science experiments from a unique perspective, 30 miles above Earth on a NASA scientific balloon.

Undergraduate students from Penn State University, State College, Pa.; Montana State University, Bozeman, Mont.; the University of Alabama, Huntsville, Ala.; and Auburn University, Ala., have science experiments on NASA’s new Deep Space Test Bed facility. NASA’s 40 million cubic foot balloon was launched May 9 from Fort Sumner, N.M. The test bed is an aluminum gondola about the size of a standard passenger car.

“It’s our hope to provide these student scientists with hands-on experience in systems design, construction and flight,” said NASA engineer Mark Christl, project manager for the Deep Space Test Bed at the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala. “This is a terrific way to help inspire and train the next generation of space explorers, while helping NASA fully test a versatile, valuable science resource.”

The gondola was prepared for flight by engineers from Marshall and the University of Alabama. The student experiments will help test the structural integrity, power systems, data storage, and command system of the floating science lab.

The primary payload for this balloon flight is the High-Energy Replicated Optics, (HERO), instrument developed by Marshall. HERO is a hard X-ray focusing telescope. It uses high-resolution and high-sensitivity hard X-ray mirror technology. It is designed to create images from high-energy X-ray light.

During the flight, the university experiments will identify pollution related aerosols in the atmosphere; measure radiation and its impact on the integrity and behavior of the balloon; measure the external temperature of the balloon material; and gather magnetic field data.

While the university teams are conducting atmospheric research, the younger students are testing the effects of the flight environment. Experiments from eight grade schools are flying in a NASA Student Experiment Module.

The experiments are housed in brick-size plastic containers inside two larger containers about the size of large briefcases. The experiments are looking at the effect of the flight environment on test articles such as materials, microscopic organisms and seeds. The students will receive their experiments approximately two to three weeks after their flight.

Launch, flight and recovery operations for the pilot-less, helium filled balloon are conducted by the National Scientific Balloon Facility, Palestine, Texas. The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Va., manages the Balloon Program for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate.

Information about NASA’s Balloon Program is available on the Web, at:

A list of NASA Student Experiment Module schools and experiment descriptions is available on the Web, at:

For information about NASA and other agency programs on the Web, visit:

SpaceRef staff editor.