Native American youth launch high-altitude balloons for unique perspective on solar eclipse

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August 21, 2017

While many people across the country donned viewing glasses and prepared to watch Monday’s solar eclipse, a group of 100 teenagers from tribes across the Pacific Northwest launched balloons thousands of feet into the air, gaining a novel perspective of the eclipse — and the chance to send meaningful artifacts to the edge of space during a memorable moment in history.
The high school students released their balloons from Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs land in north central Oregon, directly in the path of totality that allows viewers to see the moon completely cover the sun. Close to 400 people, mainly tribal members and students, gathered to watch. The event, organized by University of Washington-based Washington NASA Space Grant Consortium and the Northwest Earth and Space Sciences Pipeline, was the largest effort involving Native American tribes during the eclipse.

A group prepares to launch a high-altitude balloon at a recent event. Similar balloons were launched right before the Aug. 21 eclipse began.University of Washington

In addition to launching the giant weather balloons, students from each school attached culturally significant items, called payloads, to the balloons and sent them high into the sky. Their artifacts nearly reached space before returning to the ground.
“This is the first time many of the students get to participate in a cutting-edge experiment of this type,” said the consortium’s director, Robert Winglee, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences. “Seeing their own payloads at the rim of space is quite exciting. This different perspective will hopefully awaken other ideas for gaining different perspectives on their own lives and their own career paths.”
Over the past couple of years, consortium staff visited many of the schools participating in the eclipse balloon launch, introducing students to space research and various NASA projects. The goal is to …

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