WATCH: WSU Flag Launched Into Stratosphere - ABC FOX MONTANA NEWS, WEATHER, SPORTS - KTMF/KWYB

WATCH: WSU Flag Launched Into Stratosphere

Posted: Updated:
The WSU flag seen from space. (PHOTO: WSU) The WSU flag seen from space. (PHOTO: WSU)
PULLMAN, Wash. -

The Washington State University flag has flown in many places around the world - from ESPN Game Day to the Great Wall of China - and now more than 18 miles into the stratosphere.

A Cougar flag attached to a weather balloon recently launched from the center of the Pullman campus reached nearly 100,000 feet, presumed to be a record-breaker for the WSU banner. The flight was part of a WSU Physics and Astronomy Club student project; now the flag is up for auction (see http://www.ebay.com/itm/Phyiscs-Astronomy-Club-WSU-Flag-Post-Flight-/251531402832).

Altitude unexpected

Launched from the roof of the Terrell Library during WSU Mom’s Weekend in April, the balloon was projected to reach an altitude between 40,000 and 60,000 feet, said Nicholas Cerruti, senior physics instructor and club faculty advisor. The team was surprised by the altitude data from the internal monitor of the recovered balloon.

Jesse Miller, club president and a recent 2014 physics graduate, said team members initially thought there was a glitch in the data.

“I was kind of dubious at first because there was data recorded for the first half hour, and then it cut out for a really long time,” he said. “Then there is 15 minutes of data clustered right around the peak.”

That peak, said Eric Beier, club treasurer and a junior in physics, was officially 98,093 feet above Earth.

Landing as predicted

The balloon’s predicted flight path, based on jet stream mapping software, set the landing site on the Clearwater Plateau, about a 90-minute drive southeast of Pullman. The jet stream shifts slightly every day, so the launch needed to be carefully timed to avoid pushing the balloon too far south or east; if the balloon descended into Hell’s Canyon or landed in Idaho’s vast stretches of forest, recovery would be difficult.

The balloon kit purchased by the club included a GPS unit to track its trajectory. As the balloon and flag rose into the sky after the launch, club members watched the signal head east over Idaho.

Even with the higher altitude, the balloon did land in the predicted region of the plateau. The recovery team easily retrieved it from a farmer’s field near Nez Perce, Idaho.

Above curve of the Earth

A GoPro camera fitted to the apparatus captured the flag’s ascent. The two-hour footage shows the rolling hills of the Palouse quickly giving way to white clouds scattered across the sky. Thirteen minutes into the flight, the balloon encounters a hailstorm, but four minutes later the sky is clear and blue.

At the balloon’s high point, the sun and blackness of space are visible above the curve of the Earth as the flag flutters at the bottom of the screen. Miller said the curve may be exaggerated by the 170-degree viewing angle of the camera but, unless it’s been to the International Space Station, the Cougar flag probably has never flown higher.

Why the balloon went so high remains a mystery. Weather balloons are designed to self-deflate and return to Earth: as a balloon rises, the surrounding air pressure becomes lower; higher pressure inside means the balloon expands until it leaks or pops.

The altitude a balloon reaches depends upon how much helium is in it.

May become annual event

“More helium would have a lower maximum altitude, since the pressure inside the balloon would be greater and the balloon would pop sooner,” said Cerruti. If the balloon has less helium, it should rise more slowly but stay aloft longer.

Chad Garrison, flight commander and physics major, said the goal of the project was to design a high-altitude physics experiment platform that could be repeated by future club members. The flag launch, he said, allowed for “alpha testing of the apparatus, making a live launch to understand the physics and determine procedures for future experiments.”

The club hopes the balloon launch will become an annual event, much like their popular fall Dad’s Weekend pumpkin drop from the 12th floor of Webster Hall.

The flag auction is open until noon Saturday, May 24. Proceeds will benefit the WSU Physics and Astronomy Club.

Article Courtesy of Washington State University

  • Top Stories from KHQTop StoriesMore>>

  • Boil-water advisories issued in several eastern Washington areas after storms

    Boil-water advisories issued in several eastern Washington areas after storms

    Friday, July 25 2014 5:45 AM EDT2014-07-25 09:45:06 GMT
    SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash. - The Washington State Department of Health believes some local water systems are at risk after severe storms moved through the area on Wednesday and they have issued some boil-water advisories. 
    SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash. - The Washington State Department of Health believes some local water systems are at risk after severe storms moved through the area on Wednesday and they have issued some boil-water advisories. In Spokane and Pend Oreille counties, several water systems are under boil-water advisories:·
  • Progress being made on power outages

    Progress being made on power outages

    Friday, July 25 2014 4:12 AM EDT2014-07-25 08:12:58 GMT
    SPOKANE, Wash. - As of 9:30pm Thursday, there were still more than 20,000 customers without power in the Inland Northwest.
    SPOKANE, Wash. - As of 9:30pm Thursday, there were still more than 20,000 customers without power in the Inland Northwest. In a press release sent out Thursday night, Avista said they have 68% of the nearly 40,000 customers who lost power during Wednesday's severe thunderstorm have power again. There were still more than 12,000 customers without power, however. Avista said rein...
  • Post Falls Police: missing 11-year-old boy found

    Post Falls Police: missing 11-year-old boy found

    Friday, July 25 2014 4:11 AM EDT2014-07-25 08:11:28 GMT
    POST FALLS, Idaho - The Post Falls Police Department is asking for your help locating an endangered 11-year-old boy.
    POST FALLS, Idaho - Post Falls Police say 11-year-old Jeremy Yaken was found early Friday morning,  and he is safe.
Powered by WorldNow

Features

  • More Features
  • Powered by WorldNow
    All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 WorldNow and Cowles Montana Media. All Rights Reserved. For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.