Mt. Blue students launch high-elevation balloon as part of experiment


FARMINGTON — Mt. Blue sophomore Jacob Miller held onto a high-elevation balloon as it was inflated with helium in preparation of its launch into space with attached payloads and sensors.

Once it was ready, those holding the balloon released it. It floated up and out of sight quickly.

Miller and fellow sophomores in Doug Hodum’s high school biology class are working to collect scientific data.

Hodum and professor Rick Eason of the University of Maine in Orono have worked in collaboration on the astrobiology-scientific ballooning project for several years. A hiatus was taken last year.

“Mr. Hodum gave us an option of doing a little scientific experiment,” said Finn Towle, a sophomore.

They could choose to send up something live, such as mold and fungus, said Molly Harmon, also a sophomore in Hodum’s class.


Some people were sending up eggs.

“My group is sending up sea monkeys to see how long they will live,” Towle said.

Another group is sending up “water bears,” Harmon said. These are also known as tardigrades, a microscopic animal that can survive in space.

Once the balloon goes as high as it can and can float no longer, it will come down. Students at the University of Maine will track it using a GPS, which is part of the project, Towle said.

“Once we get all the stuff back, we will finish our lab report,” he said.

“We are expecting it to actually go up to space,” Harmon said.

An online site predicts where the balloon will land. The class was going to send the balloon up Oct. 31, but it would have landed in Canada. Seeds, which are included in the payloads, are not allowed to come back from Canada to Maine, Harmon said.

It is estimated that the balloon will land past Bangor, she said.

“I expect a bunch of things to freeze,” sophomore Cally Chick said.

There is also a lot of opportunity for things in the payloads to break, student Olivia Schanck said.

One group is sending a fertilized chicken egg to see if the high altitude will affect the way it hatches.

In the past, the payloads attached to Mt. Blue’s balloon contained bacteria, seeds and sensors. The sensors have collected ultraviolet data and temperature changes, among other information.

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Jacob Miller, center left, a sophomore in Doug Hodum’s biology class at Mt. Blue High School in Farmington, holds onto a high-elevation balloon Tuesday as Rick Eason, right, a professor at the University at Maine in Orono, prepares the balloon to launch into space. Students are collecting scientific data. (Donna M. Perry/Sun Journal)

Students in Doug Hodum’s biology class at Mt. Blue High School in Farmington on Tuesday release a high-elevation balloon and prepare to let go of payloads carrying seeds, sea monkeys and a fertilized egg, among other things, as part of an experiment to collect scientific data and to see how these items react when they return to Earth. (Donna M. Perry/Sun Journal)

Students in Doug Hodum’s biology class at Mt. Blue High School in Farmington launch a high-elevation balloon with attached payloads that contained sea monkeys, seeds and other materials. Students will see how these items have been affected when the balloon returns to Earth. Students and Hodum were assisted by Rick Eason, a professor at the University of Maine in Orono, and UMaine students. (Donna M. Perry/Sun Journal)