A group of ambitious students and parents from the Yigal Alon elementary school in Hod Hasharon, a bedroom community just east of Tel Aviv, last week shot a meteorological balloon 15 miles up, almost reaching the edge of the earth’s atmosphere, and collected images and complete flight data.
The project, dubbed “Aiming High,” was initiated by Yuval Erez, a parent who works as aeronautic engineer for military manufacturer Elbit. He managed to infect with his enthusiasm the school head, a group of parents, and 33 students, and together they “simply conquered space,” as a local newspaper put it with superlatively unabashed pride.
The students were divided into work groups, each led by a parent, Erez related, “and we started to meet for activities every Friday after school. The aim of the project was to teach the children different things, the kind they don’t learn at school; to show them that if you have a dream and you designate a target, even if it looks unattainable, like flying a documentation device to the edge of space and retrieving it, it is attainable.”
“The group purchased the technical equipment, with adjustments made by the mechanical team that built the box,” Yuval continued. The Styrofoam box, weighing 42.3 ounces, “was installed with two GoPro type cameras, a black box to record the full flight data, location respondents so we could locate the box after it landed, and a radio transmitter.”
The launch had to be coordinated with the Civil Aviation Authority and Air Force Intelligence, lest the unidentified balloon be treated as an invader and shot down prematurely.
The launch took place at the Megadim beach, north of Atlit, off the main highway to Haifa. The weather balloon, filled with helium (courtesy of the Maxima company which provided the expensive gas free of charge), reached the height of about 15 miles and blew up above Nazareth. The box parachute opened and the tiny spaceship landed in the orchards between the communities of Kinneret and Alumot, on the shore of Lake Kinneret.
“The balloon launch was not problem free,” Erez recalled. “The wind was too strong, and when the balloon was being inflated, the tether was torn and it escaped and flew a few yards off. We figured out the malfunction and the second launch was a success.” The balloon rose at the rate of 18 to 21 ft. per second, he said, and “we received flight data and stunning images from the side camera, showing the blue stripe between the black outer space and the white atmosphere at the edge of space. We even managed to get a selfie of the balloon, and shots of the moment the balloon exploded.”
And just to save our learned readers the trouble of writing a knowing comment regarding the Karman line, which commonly represents the boundary between the Earth’s atmosphere and outer space, at an altitude of 62 miles, and not 15 miles — well, we also knew that one.