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Springville Middle School flying high

On a cool, crisp fall morning, more than 400 students gathered outside Springville Middle School to excitedly count down to the launch of the school's stratosphere balloon.

This is simply a 5-foot-diameter balloon designed and built by 40 eighth-grade students to reach the stratosphere, 17 miles in the air. Attached to the balloon was a Styrofoam capsule containing a camera and GPS.

Joseph Karb, an eighth-grade social studies teacher, got the idea for the students to create the balloon after the Massachusetts Institute of Technology appeared on CNN for creating a similar project.

The project was "student operated and teacher facilitated," eighth-grader Caroline Francisco explained during "PBS NewsHour."

"During this project, teachers developed goals with students and then supervised their work. The students did the vast majority of the testing and fabrication. Teachers gave advice when needed," Karb said.

The students worked almost every day for three weeks on the balloon during the school's daily enrichment program.

The project aimed to help students in almost every school subject. In the social studies aspect, they used latitude/longitude and geography, and researched balloon flights throughout history. For science, the students had to use the scientific method plus learn about weather and space. Students had to graph weather patterns in math and write articles on the project for English class. This was all done during the enrichment period.

The students had to program a camera with special software that would take pictures every six seconds and then figure out how to stabilize the camera in the Styrofoam container.

They also had to run several tests to make sure the balloon would work. The students had to create a "test capsule" containing eggs and drop it off the top of the school roof to make sure that the parachute was the right size.

On the day of the liftoff, the balloon flew 17 miles high and popped when it was 20 feet in diameter, causing the parachute to open. It landed in a soybean farm 50 miles from Springville in Byron, after being in the air for three hours.

The camera shot over 2,100 photos. Some pictures show Lake Erie, and other photos show the curvature of the Earth next to the blackness of space.

For more information and to view a slideshow about the Stratosphere balloon, visit Springville's Griffith Institute's Web site at www.springvillegi.org/webpages/sballoon/index.cfm.

Alissa Roy is a freshman at Springville Griffith Institute.

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