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BCTC team to live-stream eclipse footage as part of national Eclipse Ballooning Project

Aug 15, 2017

BCTC Eclipse TeamLEXINGTON, Ky.— A team of students and faculty from the Kentucky Space Grant Consortium at Bluegrass Community and Technical College (BCTC) will launch a high-altitude balloon on Aug. 21 as part of a nationwide, NASA-sponsored project to live-stream aerial video footage of the “Great American Eclipse.”

The team will launch the roughly 8-foot-tall, helium-filled balloon, which will carry a video camera and other equipment to an altitude of up to 100,000 feet, at approximately 12:03 Central Time from the Challenger Center at West Kentucky Community and Technical College (WCTC) in Paducah. Live footage from the camera will be available for public viewing on NASA’s website.

As part of the Eclipse Ballooning Project, 55 teams from across the country will live-stream footage of the total solar eclipse, in which the moon will entirely block the sun for approximately two minutes on a path progressing from the Pacific coast in Oregon (1:17 p.m. PCT) to the Atlantic coast in South Carolina (2:47 p.m. EST).

The NASA-sponsored project, which is led by the Montana Space Grant Consortium at Montana State University, has been years in the making. According to MSGC Director Angela Des Jardins, the project marks the first time that high-altitude video footage of a total solar eclipse has been broadcast live.

“We’re excited to provide a unique perspective of this rare phenomenon,” Des Jardins said. “The live-stream video will show the curvature of the planet, the blackness of space, and the whole of the moon’s shadow crossing the Earth during the eclipse.”

Jessica Glasscock, a BCTC student who is the team lead for community outreach, has been instrumental in promoting the eclipse activities to local schools. “Joining the BCTC Balloon Sat team has provided me with networking opportunities that will benefit my future career as an environmental scientist,” said Glasscock. “I have also learned a great deal about high-altitude ballooning and have made several lasting friendships.”

In addition to a video camera, the team’s balloon will carry a GPS tracking system, a camera to capture still images of the eclipse, and instruments that measure temperature, pressure, altitude, and ultraviolet radiation. Once the eclipse has passed, the balloon will burst and the payloads will parachute to Earth.

The Montana Space Grant Consortium at Montana State University initiated the project in 2014. The project is sponsored by the NASA Science Mission Directorate and NASA’s Space Grant program, a national network that includes over 900 affiliates from universities, colleges, industry, museums, science centers, and state and local agencies belonging to one of 52 consortia in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

The BCTC Team will also participate in NASA’s MicroStrat Eclipse Ballooning Project. Along with 28 other balloon teams, BCTC will collaborate with NASA’s Astrobiology division out of the NASA Ames Research Center on a unique experiment in a near-space environment along the path of the solar eclipse. BCTC students will stick a MicroStrat "coupon" of bacteria onto the outside of one of the payloads before it launches on eclipse day. The bacteria, Paenibacillus xerothermodurans, is a spore forming bacteria that was isolated from spacecraft assembly clean-rooms. This research in the stratosphere (a good analogue for the Martian surface) will help NASA understand the nature of extremophilic bacteria in the context of microbial life on Mars or other extreme environments. The BCTC team will ship the "coupon" back to the researchers once the payloads are recovered and the MicroStrat researchers will see how many colonies survived the trip.

The BCTC Eclipse Team is mentored by Tracy Knowles who is a professor in the Environmental Science Technology Program. Students were identified by BCTC STEM faculty and invited to participate in the project by Professor Knowles.  Current student Team members include: 

  • 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

For more information about the national project and press materials, visit http://eclipse.montana.edu.

For more information about Bluegrass Community and Technical College’s Eclipse Team visit www.bctchab.org

Photo caption: Members of the BCTC Eclipse Team.