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Balloon Launch Combines Space Exploration And A Treasure Hunt

Christina Lieffring

For Bill Brown, the “father” of high altitude ballooning, it all started when he saw a documentary of a man who parachuted from 100,000 feet above ground.

“The description he gave of being able to see for hundreds of miles in all directions and see the blackness of space and the curve of the earth … I wanted to see that for myself,” he said. “Some people strapped a bunch of balloons to a lawn chair, but that seemed a little risky, so I decided to come up with a camera and a small video camera to put up in a small weather balloon.”

That was 30 years ago and Brown has been launching balloons ever since. He’s one of the founding members of the Great Plains Super Launch, an annual event hosted across the Midwest. At the event, members launch the balloons and at 90,000 feet they burst and parachute back to earth. On the ground they track the balloons using GPS and HAM radio technology.

Marty Griffin and Mike Morgan lead a team of eight trackers who communicate by HAM radio as they chase down their balloon. Griffin and Morgan are with Edge of Space Sciences, a volunteer group that organizes launches for school groups and has a perfect record of recovering all 195 balloons they have launched. They attribute this to their team of “smart, dedicated trackers” and the development of GPS technology which makes it easier for them, and the kids, to the see the balloons descend to earth.

“You oughta see the kids running into the fields. They’re just jumping up and down,” said Griffin. “You see high school kids and, you know, they’re pretty cool. You get them out in the middle of nowhere tracking a balloon and they’re just like six, seven year olds running around.”

More information is available at Great Plains Super Launch.

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