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Photo by Joe McMenamin

Unlocking space and weather from a Year 10 perspective

Lucy Carver —

My name is Lucy Carver and I am in 10ATA. On the 27th and 28th of October I went into Space Place in Kelburn, Wellington along with Nick Kellett from our school, and 20 other students from around the Wellington area.

On this exciting trip, we got to take part in preparing and launching a near-space weather balloon. This balloon would go up into the lower atmosphere This trip was in conjunction with the New Zealand Royal Society, Metservice, and Space Place.

Mrs Kuhn thought it would be a cool opportunity for someone to take, and I took it. I’ve been doing pretty well in science throughout this year, and I felt this would be a good way to extend my knowledge. I filled out the application form, and Mr Johnson sent it into the organisers. After a couple of weeks, I found out that I was one of the lucky 22 students who had been accepted into the programme and to give secondary school students the opportunity to extend their knowledge of space and weather.

I learned quite a lot about space, and weather systems. I can finally say that I understand what the weatherman on the news means when he says there's a high or a low coming in too… On the course, we had a talk from a meteorologist from Metservice, who explained how weather systems work, and told us that the Metservice forecast the weather from about 20% of the world's oceans! We also learned that the reason the weather forecast is often wrong is that the weather is constantly changing, so meteorologists can’t keep up sometimes. For the first half of Thursday, we were listening to the meteorologist explain about the weather. Then we had a slideshow explain about the parts of the weather balloon that we would be assembling. Then, we were split into teams to discuss ideas on how best to arrange the items that would be in the payload. After a break for lunch, we got back together in a big group and decided how best to arrange the payload. We then split up again, this time into two teams; the launch team and the payload team. I was in the payload team, and it was great fun. We had to work out how to use the least amount of duct tape possible, and still secure the load. This was because if we had lots of tape inside the payload, it would be too heavy, and it would never get off the ground. We also had to arrange the GPS’ to maximise their signals, and arrange some tinfoil over the cellphone/camera we had to boost the 3G streaming signal, and that proved to be quite a challenge. Everyone had lots of great ideas, and we all had fun working together.

On the second day (Friday) we launched the balloon. We had a problem with a leaking helium tank, but we quickly sourced another helium bottle and got back to the launch. I was one of two students who got to actually launch the balloon. It was a really cool feeling when we launched it to know that I had been a part of making it, but I was also kind of sad that the thing I, amongst others, had put so much hard work into disappearing into the clouds. When we sat down to watch the live video feed that the camera phone was sending back to us we were slightly disappointed because all we could see were clouds, but we stopped caring when we realised that, hey! The camera was actually working. We were all high-fiving each other and laughing once we got on the bus about 20 minutes after the launch. On the bus, lots of people were looking online at the GPS data, and chattering away.

I think the funniest moment of the whole course was when the entire payload team forgot to read the instructions on the contact glue (basically really strong super glue by a fancy name). That nearly ended in disaster! Because we didn’t read the instructions, we didn’t read the warning/safety label either… we just assumed it was pretty much a stronger version of normal glue, and proceeded to apply it thickly to our styrofoam box… What none of us realised was that contact glue, in fact, any type of super glue, MELTS styrofoam. The second we realised that we were hurriedly grabbing anything we could to rub the adhesive off before it could put a hole in the box. After our 60 moments of panic, we all sat back feeling very relieved, and then all started cracking up laughing at how we had been running around like headless chickens trying to remove the glue. Luckily we had been pretty speedy, so the styrofoam box was still in one piece. From now on I will ALWAYS read the instructions first.

All in all, it was an amazingly fun and hands-on learning experience. I made a bunch of new science friends and going on this course reignited my passion for wanting to be an astrophysicist. I hope I get another opportunity to do something similar again, because I had loads of fun, and learned so much.


  By Lucy Carver 10ATA