NASA balloon project launches in the Western Nebraska Panhandle

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SCOTTSBLUFF, Neb. (KNEP) - A nationwide NASA balloon project is launched in the Western Nebraska Panhandle to gather information about earth’s atmosphere and rays during the eclipse.

More than a dozen students from South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and area high schools participated in the project. Team leader, Gina Bestgen says it took about eight months of preparation and test runs to get the proper height and calculations for the launch.

The project consisted of a helium filled balloon that reached 100,000 feet in altitude, and was able to intercept during the eclipse.

“It was roughly eight to ten feet in diameter, and once it goes up into altitude to 100,000 feet and it grows 36 times that size,” Bestgen said.

For many of the students, it was a project of a life time.

“I am experiencing this one in a lifetime experience that I will probably never have again. I think it is an opportunity you can’t pass up,” says Cody Croain.

According to team members, many people were concerned that inside the balloon contained a small portion of bacteria.

“You can find this bacteria in soil,” says Hannah Young. “There is no reason to be scared because this bacteria is not harmful to us.”

The thin strip of on-board bacteria will be sent to NASA labs for testing to determine the atmosphere. This experiment will help researchers prepare for a mission to Mars. According to scientists, if earth’s stratosphere is similar to the one in Mars, it will be easy to determine what kind of bacteria is present.

The Nebraska Panhandle experience a moment of history this week. Even though total solar eclipses occur every 18 months, the last one in Nebraska was 63 years ago.

The South Dakota Eclipse Balloon Project is one of 55 teams in the country participating.