Students celebrate principal’s birthday with special balloon launch aimed to help science

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INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- Students at a Fort Osage school are celebrating their principal's birthday with a balloon launch.
But these aren't colorful party balloons that lifted up into the sky  but rather one giant space balloon equipped with scientific instruments.

The balloon is carrying cameras and sensors to the edge of space.

Working with engineers from Burns and McDonnell, the helium-filled latex balloon will measure temperatures, air pressure and magnetic fields as it travels 80,000 feet to the end of Earth's atmosphere.

Students at Fire Prairie Upper Elementary School wrote the computer code to program cameras to take photos every five seconds during the flight and record video every ten seconds.

"It was an incredible experience for me," said Heather Johnson, sixth grade science teacher. "I love seeing the excitement among the kids grow throughout the year. They kept asking me 'When is the balloon launch? What are we doing next?' They made me very proud with their excitement and also with the ideas for some of the experiments that we did."

Student experiments include placing a marshmallow on the balloon to see what will happen to it. And there are some seeds on the flight that will be planted when they return to the ground to see if they grow differently.

"I really like science probably because of all the experiments we do in sixth grade," said Aly Young, one of the students. "Sixth grade science is probably one of my most favorite years of science because we do a bunch of experiments, and we test a lot of things."

The flight only takes about 90 minutes before the balloon bursts. The payload is equipped with a satellite tracking device so engineers can retrieve the contents for students, who they hope will continue their love of learning through discovery.