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The View from 90,000 Feet

Students recover cameras from weather balloon flight

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A package that was launched from the ESF campus and lifted a pair of cameras some 17 miles above Earth was recovered in Poughkeepsie, providing a group of students with stunning photographs and a lesson in remote sensing.

The insulated package dropped to the earth after the helium-filled weather balloon burst as expected because of changes in the atmosphere. Included in the package was a cell phone equipped with a global positioning system unit that allowed the students to follow the flight. When the package, with its landing eased by a pair of parachutes, hit the ground 170 miles southeast of Syracuse, the students and Assistant Professor Giorgos Mountrakis were already on the chase.

"It took us about an hour to find it in dense vegetation but when we did you could have probably heard us from Syracuse," Mountrakis said.

The cameras captured clear photos of the ESF campus and the Hudson River near Poughkeepsie along with images from high above the earth that show the planet's curvature.

On April 29, the students attached two consumer-model digital cameras - one to shoot still photos and one for video - and the cell phone to a 20-foot line that dangled from the balloon.

"It's an opportunity for them to work on teamwork, learn about building the sensor, and be aware of potential problems with the technology. And have some fun, I hope," Mountrakis said.

The class launched the balloon from the ESF Quad late in the morning. They immediately began tracking the balloon and several of them began driving east in the hopes of finding the extruded polystyrene foam box that contained the cameras and phone. The recovered the package the same day.