A camera attached to a ‘near space’ balloon launched by a group of Olde Towne Middle School students captured this photo of earth's curvature at nearly 100,000 feet.
A camera attached to a ‘near space’ balloon launched by a group of Olde Towne Middle School students captured this photo of earth's curvature at nearly 100,000 feet.
A "near space" balloon launched by a group of Olde Towne Middle School students this weekend traveled over 18 miles into the atmosphere, capturing photos of the earth's curvature and high speed particles all while carrying a payload with half a dozen science projects.

Members of OTMS Robotics, Radio and Technology club were impressed as they saw the photos, as well as the results of the experiments from the LEO-1 Flight. The flight was named in memory of Leo McGehee who was a critical member of the chase and recovery team last year. McGehee passed away shortly after last year's launch.

In addition to launching the balloon and gathering data, the project entered the world amateur radio ballooning records. The LEO-1 flight is now recognized as the second furthest VHF/UHF telemetry distance reception.

After several months of preparation, the group launched the helium-filled latex balloon from Gluckstadt Saturday morning carrying a payload chain of data-collecting tools behind it.

After the balloon popped at nearly 100,000 feet, the payload was recovered near Ashville, Ala., 300 miles away. After deeming last year's launch a success just for being able to send the balloon up, program coordinator Bill Richardson was pleased with the results.

"The difference was that this year we were trying to focus on using the balloon as a vehicle for putting good science experiments up on the edge of space," Richardson said. "The focus wasn't necessarily on the flying and novelty of the balloon. We're getting more science-based information.

"Last year, we were just glad to have gotten it up," Richardson added.

Science teacher Bobby Robinson, who helped coordinate the science projects with the students, was also happy with the results, saying that the project is garnering interest from prospective students at OTMS.

"Each and every year we gain more and more enthusiasm for the project," Robinson said. "We had a huge turnout this year. There was much more community support that is involved in helping us get necessary materials."

To get an idea of how high the balloon flew, students compared stopwatches from earth with those on the flight. The stopwatch on the balloon registered a shorter time as the incredibly low temperatures of near-space slowed down the electrons in the circuitry of the watch.

A major point of interest for the students for Richardson and Robinson last year was several photos that captured a strange cosmic particle on the film. After sending the images to scientists at Mississippi State and NASA, the group learned that the particle was unique and not a camera error.

The group attempted to duplicate that project this year.

"They didn't know what cosmic ray we had captured on the undeveloped film," Robinson said. "We wanted to try to extend that research."

The group took a 35 mm undeveloped film and laid it flat to get individual strikes of the particles.

"We captured a very similar particle," Robinson said. "That's real science. No one has seen a particle like that before."

Robinson went on to say that their research has been submitted to several physicists in the area in hopes of identifying the particle.

For Robinson, the reward of the project didn't necessarily come from the data, but from the interest in science expressed by the students.

"One of the students said she wants to become a forensic anthropologist because we're studying ecology and did a number of experiments on pathogens on the flight," Robinson said. "I've had several students say that because they did these projects, they want to follow this up into various scientific fields of study."