For Garrison science students, weather balloon project is an uplifting experience

3Rs program director Brent Cummings, top right, helps Garrison Middle School students hold on to their High Altitude Science project that launched and floated 20 miles above the earth.

3Rs program director Brent Cummings, top right, helps Garrison Middle School students hold on to their High Altitude Science project that launched and floated 20 miles above the earth. Photo by Joe Tierney.


A more than month-long exploration of space and sciences culminated June when 20 Garrison Middle School students saw their hard work float up and away.

The 20 girls, all of Hispanic background, had been pulled together by Brent Cummings, director of the 3Rs after-school program at Garrison, to research and launch a weather balloon. The 3Rs program is part of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers federal program that looks to enrich underserved and low-income students.

Working with a kit from High Altitude Science, the weather balloon launched with four high-definition video cameras mounted on a platform that included figurines of main characters from the film “Up.”

In this journey, though, Carl, Russell and Dug the dog traveled much farther than the Venezuelan waterfalls of the film.

Footage captured from the cameras shows the characters floating 20 miles above the earth. Cummings said the weather balloonlaunched at 10:30 a.m. June 17, reached 105,835 feet and traveled for three hours and 51 minutes. It was recovered at 5:15 p.m. northwest of St. John, just west of the southern tip of Rock Lake and 133 miles from Walla Walla.

“This was truly an awesome project,” Cummings said. “The girls accomplished so much in such a short time. I am so proud of them. Our success was a direct result of their effort, determination, and dedication.”

Cummings said he was also impressed that each of the 20 girls he approached to take part in the program saw it through to the end. Over six weeks, the girls took trips to Whitman College, heard from guest presenters, and built relationships with each other around a common goal.

“Our main objective was to engage and excite our Garrison Latinas about the future possibilities of careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM),” Cummings said in an e-mail.

“We started with 20 girls, and after six rigorous weeks of STEM activities, we ended with the same 20 girls. I believe this was a step in the right direction.”

Sarai Lopez, who was in charge of the GPS tracking system, said for her it all came down to seeing the balloon climb into space.

“It was a great experience,” said Lopez, 14, who will be a ninth-grader at Wa-Hi this fall.

“Having all the Hispanic girls come together. It was just an amazing project that I never thought I was going to do. It’s a lifetime memory, that when you’re older and you have kids you can tell them stories about what you did in school.”

Lopez said she and her classmates stepped up and came together on the day of the launch. They all performed their tasks to ensure a successful launch.

One group filled the balloon with 150 cubic feet of helium. The balloon was then attached to the platform holding the electronic gear and passengers.

Huddled together in a circle, a core group of girls counted down from 10 until reaching zero, before releasing their project and seeing it zip toward space.

“It was a really big moment to release it and see it go up and fly away,” Lopez said. She described a long day driving through the region to track and recover the balloon, but said it all made the experience worthwhile.

“It really did come together nicely,” she said. “Working together as groups, trying to figure out everything, trying the GPS, going to Whitman.

“For me, going to Whitman was a great opportunity. I really want to go to that college. It was amazing seeing everything. Rockets, craters, stars, everything.”


Way Up - Garrison Space Project


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