Anacapa School Skirts the Stratosphere

High-Altitude Science Balloon Captures Photos and Data

An image captured by a probe made by the Anacapa School's Near Space Exploration Club of Pismo Dunes, San Luis Obispo Bay, and the Earth's curvature

With a small point-and-shoot camera suspended over 90,000 feet in the air by a helium balloon, students of Santa Barbara’s Anacapa School recently captured stratospheric images of the the Central Coast including Earth’s curvature. In addition to the dramatic photos that depict land, sea, and air for 400 miles in all directions, the craft – made by members of the school’s Near Space Exploration Club – recorded temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, and radiation levels.

With the help of faculty advisor Levi Maaia, students Julio Bernal, Aubrey Cazabat, Christian Eckert, and Connor Proctor launched the club’s first balloon probe from a site east of Paso Robles in the small community of Shandon.

Near Space Exploration Club members test their balloon probe

Maaia – a student in UCSB’s Graduate School of Education who teaches a class at Anacapa – explained the team had to calculate the balloon’s predicted flight path, taking into account wind speed and direction beforehand. They also had to make the small craft sturdy enough to withstand “brutally cold conditions and hurricane-force winds,” Maaia said, and chose the launch point because it was far away from ocean and mountains.

The probe spent two hours and ten minutes in flight before the balloon burst – as it was designed to – sending the camera and instruments enclosed in a sturdy foam capsule floating to the ground below under an attached parachute. While it didn’t officially enter space, the craft ascended 99 percent above Earth’s atmosphere, said Maaia. The capsule’s GPS radio tracking signal helped the team recover it in Kings County. Luckily the payload landed near a road and it only took them 45 minutes to track it down.

“We worked so hard on this project,” said Cazabat in a prepared statement. “It was such an amazing feeling to see the capsule back on the ground and to know that we had done it!” Maaia said he’s heard of similar educational projects conducted around the country, but none with kids as young as Anacapa students.


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