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Video George Albercook Teaches Kids About Space with High-Altitude Balloons (Video) 21

George Albercook says he got carried away talking with some third and fourth graders about space and asked them, "Would you like to go?" Except, of course, he couldn't send them beyond the atmosphere in person, so as a consolation he worked with them to send up a balloon that could carry experiments high enough that the sky is black 24 hours a day and the Earth's curvature is easy to see. This interview with George was at the 2012 Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire. Click on the link just below, if you'd like to read the transcript.

Third and fourth graders were studying science, studying space. So I got a little carried away, and I said, "Well, would you like to go?" And they were really thrilled. And I go, "We can't actually send you, but we can send a balloon, a payload to near space." So there's a balloon that starts out on this end. It won't fit in the barn here. It's so big. We fill it up with helium. Connected to the balloon is a parachute. So when the balloon pops, when it gets to 100,000 feet, that's 3 or 4 times higher than commercial aircraft fly, it's dark 24/7. You can see the curvature of the earth. It's dark all day and all night because there's no atmosphere to scatter and make the sky blue. You can see the curvature of the earth. There is a computer transmitter and a GPS on the balloon. The balloon transmits the signal to the amateur position recording system. Amateur ham radio operators repeat that all over the country. It goes on the Internet, and you can see the position of the balloon. About seven seconds after it sends a transmission, you can see it on Google Earth. This is a radar reflector so that if there's any aircraft flying by, their radar will reflect off of this and they will see it. But this is just the first step. Our goal is . . . about four years ago some Indian researchers sent up a payload. It had six small sample vials on it that were evacuated and cryogenically cooled. They opened them at different altitudes. The six samples, the total volume less than a bottle of water, they found three new bacteria that had never been discovered. Think about this. These bacteria are living at -40 degrees, in almost complete vacuum, being irradiated by UV sterilizing radiation. How do they live up there? So I'm thinking if they collected that much sample and got three new bacteria, I want to collect a huge sample so we've got hundreds of new bacteria. If you collect this much in the entire stratosphere and you got three bacteria that nobody had ever seen before, if we go to 100,000 feet, I want to make an electrostatic collector. Every charged particle, every particle that goes through, excluding bacteria and aerosols with bacteria on them, get charged and collected. If that's one 1 foot and I go to 100,000 feet, I'll have 100,000 cubic feet of sample compared to this. We're guaranteed to find bacteria that nobody has ever seen before. I'm going to name a bacteria. According to the rules, that's like immortality. They can't change it. If you go to Facebook.com/albercookscientific, we're posting the launch status. We were planning on launching tomorrow, but you have the right high altitude winds. Otherwise it blows it over into Lake Erie. It will go 200 miles if you can hit the jet stream. You also have to have the right visibility, and like NASA, we have to make sure we have no technical problems. We're making updates there, and you'll be able to track it in real time on Google Earth as the balloon launches.

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George Albercook Teaches Kids About Space with High-Altitude Balloons (Video)

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  • by dywolf ( 2673597 ) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @12:30PM (#41325065)

    Bad teacher! How dare you deviate from the script we have given you! You aren't supposed to innovate and teach beyond what we gave you!
    Bad teacher! You'll be replaced at the end of the year with a proper drone and the children recycled to recieve proper rote training in how to pass tests.

    • Not to be a hater, but it seems like /. has a story about somebody sending a balloon to the upper atmosphere once a week. This one does have an education angle, but really most of them do. That said, I would love to do it myself sometime, but I wouldn't expect /. to cover it.
      • Not to be a hater, but it seems like /. has a story about somebody sending a balloon to the upper atmosphere once a week. This one does have an education angle, but really most of them do. That said, I would love to do it myself sometime, but I wouldn't expect /. to cover it.

        And why not? It seems like a pretty easy way to get slashdotted. Heck, put a 4g phone on your balloon, and see if your project can be *literally* slashdotted. You know, for science.

        • Well, 3g phone (iphone) has been done. You're going to have to go bigger.

          Put a raspberry pi in the thing (it doesn't have to do anything) and you're gtg. ;)

      • No no no. Here's how you get the guaranteed Slashdot article:

        Put Bitcoin miner on a Raspberry Pi (running Linux, of course), then send that up into space on a balloon in a hardened steel case, with either a Simpson's or Monty Python quote on it. Use a small explosive charge to drop the payload onto either the RIAA or MPAA headquarters. Film the whole thing from your tablet, with commentary by some nerd celebrity (Wil Wheaton? RMS?)

        Finally, bribe Randall Munroe into making an XKCD strip about it.

        I think that

        • I like where you're going with this. For extra points you could also have him patent the process and sue other educators who attempt similar demonstrations, in whole or in part.

      • by khallow ( 566160 )
        It allows you to do some pretty remarkable things on the cheap. For example, I was part of a group that sent a remote controlled airship [jpaerospace.com] up to 95,000 feet (which incidentally would be a world record, if we had gone through the considerable trouble to certify it). Overall cost was probably no more than $100k and a few man-years of volunteer labor (including previous launches of more normal high altitude balloons to prove some technology pieces we had trouble with).

        What is a bit unusual about high altitude
  • I'm lucky. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I had a couple of science teachers who were that enthused. I still remember them fondly.

    Then in college, my interest in science was crushed by the attitude that science was just weed-out classes for engineering and medical school students.

    High school science was the last time I actually enjoyed science.

  • The earth's curvature is very easy to see even down on the surface. It's called "the horizon".

    • by cruff ( 171569 )
      The shadow of the earth on clouds at sunrise or sunset is noticeably curved also if you have an unobstructed view.
    • by Nemyst ( 1383049 )

      You do realize there'd be a horizon on a flat Earth too, right?

      It wouldn't be in the same place and it wouldn't exhibit all the particularities that a spherical Earth has, but just saying that having a horizon means the Earth is curved is entirely false.

      • You don't need a lot of magnification to see with your eyes the tops, but not the bottoms, of things whose base is beyond the horizon.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Would be better if he sent kids to space with high altitude balloons!

    • Would be better if he sent kids to space with high altitude balloons!

      It is impossible for a balloon to float up into space. Balloons rise because they are less dense than the surrounding atmosphere. To get into space, a balloon would essentially have to be less dense than a vacuum.

  • Little disappointing (Score:3, Interesting)

    by puddingebola ( 2036796 ) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @02:39PM (#41326291) Journal
    A little dissappointed that this story has real relevance to science and techonolgy and it only has drawn about 11 comments.
    • by Nemyst ( 1383049 )

      You can't bitch and whine about it, you can't criticize it, thus the average /. commenter sees no interest.

  • IMHO, this guy's plan for immortality through high altitude bacteria has a good chance of success. There's a lot of space up there and if he's consistently sampling for bacteria and also has a good way to search for those bacteria in his sample, he'll probably pick up a bunch of new species.

"I will make no bargains with terrorist hardware." -- Peter da Silva