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Weber State student research shows Earth from the edge of space

DUCHESNE, Utah (ABC 4 Utah) - The countdown is on for a mission into space. ABC 4 Utah is partnering with Weber State University to show you first hand what it looks like to leave the Earth's atmosphere.
DUCHESNE, Utah (ABC 4 Utah) - The countdown is on for a mission into space. ABC 4 Utah is partnering with Weber State University to show you first hand what it looks like to leave the Earth's atmosphere.

In just a matter of minutes young scientists at Weber State are launching into space.

"We've been working on the device we're flying today for about six months, so it's great you know all that time and effort is coming together," said Michael Petersen, student.

At the Duchesne airport, students with Weber State's High Altitude Reconnaissance Balloon for Outreach and Research (HARBOR) program are sending up a data collecting weather balloon half way through the Earth's stratosphere, it's close to the same height dare devil Felix Baumgartner space jumped last year.

Like Baumgartner, cameras are going up with the launch. And students are making sure every load of their equipment will work in space.

"When we go through the cloud layers, it gets very wet so if there's a slight break in the seal then the moisture will get inside and it'll fog up the lens," said Ian Sohl, HARBOR team member.

"All of these pay loads have to have the proper label and we thought we'd give this one the ABC 4 Utah seal of approval," said ABC 4 Utah Reporter Brian Carlson.

With the balloon filled and ready, it's go time.

"Cameras ready?" asked John Sohl, Weber State HARBOR Program Director. "Okay, start bringing it up."

"10:42:42 a.m., 10:42:42 a.m.! We've got launch! Woo hoo!" said John Sohl.

While we were looking up at the balloon, it was looking back at us. Some surprise spectators loved it.

"I've been a pilot for 40 years, but I’ve never seen a weather balloon launch that you can monitor, track it, and you're going to follow it and pick it up some place," said Russell Tillack, spectator.

That's exactly what these scientists intend to do.

"We've got a vehicle in here with a tracking device so we can actually see approximately where it is right now and we're going to take off and follow it," said Petersen.

And that's when the chase began.

"The balloon is this blue track that's moved up here by Roosevelt," said Ian Sohl.

As the balloon rose, students could also see live scientific data their equipment is reading about the balloon's environment.

"See the levels of ozone are going really high right now,” said Rosana Baldraco, physics graduate. "It's the very first project we have that we have live data coming from there."

Even though the balloon rose as high as 90,000 feet, breaking through to the edge of space, you could still see it with the naked eye.

"I see it, I see it," said Carlson.

That included when the balloon burst.

"This is Weber State Univ. HARBOR flight team our balloon just burst," said one student.

With the balloon hurling towards the earth, it wasn't long before it landed, and the team needed to find it.

"Okay, we think it's on the ground, we're going to head at least to that ridge, we're going to start working our way that way," said John Sohl.

After about a mile hike through the desert, we spotted it.

"There it is," said Ian Sohl.

A quick look at the landing site and each of the cargo loads shows the equipment survived.

"Hey it's all there," said Petersen.

"We landed in the green river once, had to get a canoe to go get it back, this is much preferable," said Ian Sohl.

While it may be some time before the team knows for sure what the data can tell about balloon's mission to the edge of space and back, but from what the team is seeing so far they're calling the mission a success.

"Any mission where we get all of our packages back is a fabulous mission," said John Sohl.

It may interest you to know there are only two groups in the continental United States who routinely conduct this type of scientific mission to examine Earth's atmosphere, one of them is NASA, and the other group is the students from Weber State’s HARBOR program.

Follow Brian Carlson on Twitter: @tv_briancarlson
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