The Great American Eclipse - A boon to science education
Last Monday, August 21, I was at West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah. An exciting day lay ahead. I was gratified to be with the BCTC “NASA Balloon Satellite Team,” participating in the Kentucky Space Grant Consortium, as they readied and launched their high-altitude, helium-filled balloon. As a member team of the Eclipse Ballooning Project, they joined 55 teams from across the country who launched balloons to live-stream footage of the solar eclipse as the path of totality swept across the country. Lexington’s WKYT television station did a great job of reporting on the importance and excitement of the event. They said of the launch, “The team described it as an unforgettable moment.” I can attest to that!
The Montana Space Grant Consortium at Montana State University initiated the project which is sponsored by the NASA Science Mission Directorate and NASA’s Space Grant program. Along with 28 other balloon teams, BCTC also assisted the NASA Ames Research Center as part of a unique experiment in a near-space environment. BCTC students included a MicroStrat "coupon" of bacteria on the outside of one of the payloads to help NASA understand the nature of extremophilic bacteria in the context of microbial life in extreme environments.
Our team was the first (and the only one of the first three college teams who attempted) to do a successful launch at West Kentucky. BCTC’s balloon was equipped with cameras that took eclipse video footage up to 75,000 feet before it burst and floated to earth. “It's just beautiful," said BCTC Professor Tracy Knowles, of the video. She coordinates the grant and instructed and led the student team. The team was even able to find and pick up the cameras and other items after the parachute and payload dropped into a rock quarry after just barely missing the Tennessee River.
Our team was selected by Professor Knowles and consisted of a dedicated group of young scientists. Three were former team members Sara Stewart, Angel Smith, and Dalton Warren. The rest are current students:
- John Paul Beard – Logistic Coordinator, Wilmore, KY
- Tom Busby – Software Engineer, Kankakee, IL
- Leandro Braga – Team Co-Leader, São Paulo, Brazil
- Alex Eberle – Team Co-Leader, Florence, KY
- Jacoby Gardner – Payload Engineer, Lexington, KY
- Jessica Glassock –Community Outreach Coordinator, Frankfort, KY
- Matt Smither – Payload Engineer, Lexington, KY
I so admire the BCTC faculty and staff who work every day to advance the understanding and support of science, whether in preparation for students’ careers or simply to help them become educated persons in a society where some do not value education and some politicize many things, including scientific methods and findings. Professor Knowles and Instructional Specialist Rae Ann Gill exemplify many faculty and staff at BCTC who have a mission of supporting students in their search for knowledge in a variety of fields. I am proud of the students who embraced this opportunity to participate in the collection of scientific data to add to our understanding of a wonder-filled universe. And I’m happy they let me tag along. It was an amazing experience not to be missed. Oh wait, you think I mean a total eclipse of the sun? Well, yes, that was amazing. But what was not to be missed was spending time with young and talented scientists, doing important research, led by dedicated educators. Yes, that is an experience I will recommend to anyone – unforgettable.