FARMINGTON — A white, helium-filled weather balloon rose 100 feet above the heads of students, NASA representatives and others Wednesday morning in a field across from Mt. Blue High School.

Rigged with a video camera and data-collecting equipment, its purpose was to record the ascent and the temperature, wind speed and air pressure.

The experiment is one component of the astrobiology/high-elevation ballooning curriculum being integrated into teacher Doug Hodum’s biology classes. Mt. Blue, along with Westbrook and Winthrop high schools, are participating in the Astrobiology-Scientific Ballooning Pilot Project funded by the Maine Space Grant Consortium through a $400,000 NASA Cooperative Agreement award, Hodum said in a news release.

The program is designed to increase students’ interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers by combining classroom instruction and hands-on learning. It’s also designed to give students insight into how NASA scientists approach research questions, engineering design and mission goals.

“The connection of a real-life experience is powerful for kids,” Principal Monique Poulin said as she watched the experiment. “They are directly engaged in learning.”

Wednesday’s experiment was to test equipment for a “much more substantial, high-elevation balloon launch that will occur in the late spring of 2012,” Hodum said. That balloon is intended to go up 100,000 feet.

Hodum’s students are working with three University of Southern Maine graduate students and a group of astrobiology experts to develop an experiment for part of the payload next spring. They’ll learn about the effects of ultraviolet rays, temperature changes, low pressure, wind patterns and flight directions, among other things, said sophomore Emma Enoch, 15, of Farmington.

Students are considering having the balloon carry bacteria to see how it reacts to the high elevation, said sophomore Courtney Austin, 15, of Industry. The balloon will also carry a video camera so students can see what’s up there, Enoch said.

Rileigh Blanchet, 15, of Farmington and Lucy Celon, 15, of New Vineyard held one of the lines tethered to the balloon Wednesday, trying to undo knots and kinks from the rope wrapped around Blanchet’s arm and hand.

“Don’t let go of the rope,” Hodum told them.

After he left, Blanchet indicated she was a little nervous about her responsibility.

Hodum returned a few minutes later.

“There’s a terrible rumor that you are nervous,” he told them. “It’s a small balloon. You are going to be fine.”

He was right. The balloon went up without a hitch, drifted into the wind and came to the back of the field before it was retrieved.

“I think it went OK,” Austin said.

[email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: