Forestview 'floater' balloon launched ahead of schedule

French writer Jules Verne's classic novel "Around the World in Eighty Days" tells the story of two men who try to circumnavigate the globe within 80 days to win a bet.

French writer Jules Verne's classic novel "Around the World in Eighty Days" tells the story of two men who try to circumnavigate the globe within 80 days to win a bet.

Some Forestview Middle School students are hoping their high-altitude balloon completes multiple laps around the earth in a much shorter time period.

The students in the school's high-altitude balloon class launched a floater balloon Wednesday night from the school's roof. The balloon carries a transmitter and hopefully will stay in the air for a couple months, circumnavigating the globe multiple times. This is the first time in the five-year history of the class that the class has launched this type of balloon.

The launch was initially planned for Thursday morning, but teacher Jim Reed said via email weather conditions prompted the earlier launch. The two factors for a good launch are wind speeds under 5 mph and clear skies, both of which were about to change, he said. Their next launch window would have been a week or two later. The class felt bad about launching the balloon with fewer observers than the planned Thursday morning launch, he said.

"We understand that some kids and parents will be disappointed," Reed said. "It was our first one and there was a steep learning curve."


At 4:15 p.m. Thursday, the balloon had not sent any updates on its location back to the class, Reed said. Depending on the path the balloon traveled, it might be 24-48 hours before it can send data back, he said. There could also be a pinhole in the balloon, which would be a bigger issue. Luckily, the class has already ordered another tracker and balloon, he said, in case this balloon fails.

In the past, the high-altitude balloon class has launched a balloon aimed at reaching the highest altitude possible. Students spend weeks designing the payloads for the balloon. This floater balloon is different in that there's no designing involved, Reed said. They purchased the Skytracker transmitter from someone who works with the National Weather Service and will use a balloon from Scientific Balloons to carry the transmitter.

"We just decided to do it as a nice little addition to our class, because it stays up so long," Reed said. "When it comes to the actual science of flying it, it's really not that complicated."

The class saw some people on the internet launching these balloons, Reed said, and decided they should try it. The class runs for about six weeks, so the students will get about five weeks of data from the balloon, he said. They'll get live feedback on how the jet stream affects weather patterns, as well as the path the balloon takes around the world.

"That's the kind of science we're looking to get out of the balloon with kids," Reed said. "Real-life science, real-life data from something that they put up in the air."

The transmitter will provide longitude, latitude, altitude and direction of travel, Reed said. It might also be able to provide travel speed, he said, but he's not sure. Either way, they'd be able to calculate travel speed based on position and wind speed. The balloon will transmit data about six times per day.

The balloon will float at about 40,000 feet, Reed said, so they won't have to worry about commercial air traffic, which flies about 5,000 feet below that. The class needs to fill the balloon with a precise amount of helium, he said, so the balloon levels off when it reaches the correct altitude.

"As long as we don't mess it up, it should stay up for two to three months," Reed said.


Thunderstorms affect this type of balloon, Reed said, but that shouldn't be a problem, unless the balloon veers south toward Mexico. The balloon is non-permeable, which means the class doesn't have to worry about helium escaping while the balloon is airborne.

"Eventually, something will take it down," Reed said. "Weather, thunderstorm, something will take it down eventually."

The students are excited to track the balloon, Reed said. They've got a huge world map hung on the wall and will track the balloon's location with pins. Every time it makes a full lap, they'll change the color of the pins they use, in order to see the different paths it takes around the earth.

"That'll be pretty neat," Reed said. "It'll be a really cool visual."

The high-altitude balloon class runs from Jan. 9 to Feb. 17. On the second day of class, the students participated in a team building event at Discovery Horse Center in Fort Ripley.

Sara Sherman, Discovery Horse Center founder, specializes in equine-assisted life coaching and works with corporate team building, personal growth retreats and small informal groups. Horses are sensitive to energy and can tell when we're unsure around them, she told the students. A good relationship between a horse and a human hinges on trust, she said, the same way trust is crucial to a team's success.

Sometime in mid-February, the class will launch its customary balloon with the goal of reaching the highest altitude possible. The class record belongs to a balloon launched in August of 2014 which reached 113,080 feet. It was the sixth balloon launch overall for the class. The class is run by Reed and fellow teacher Cory Olson.




How to track the balloon

Visit the class website at or the Forestview science, technology, engineering and mathematics page on Facebook at .


The headline of this story has been updated to correctly reflect the spelling of Forestview Middle School. 

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