Summer camp reaches new heights

(Edmonton) School kids attending the University of Alberta’s space camp this summer will be helping NASA confirm the reliability of atmospheric monitoring equipment bound for a space mission.

The junior high-school kids will work with U of A graduate students who designed a piece of equipment that monitors space storms, huge electrical disturbances beyond Earth’s atmosphere that can disable orbiting satellites. The device will be launched on a giant balloon by NASA this fall in New Mexico. 

U of A grad student and project organizer Laura Mazzino says this mission is the real deal.

“The NASA balloon stands five storeys high; it’s 330,000 cubic metres in size and goes up to 27 kilometres above Earth,” said Mazzino. The balloon stays aloft for about 20 hours before it’s remotely detonated and falls by parachute to the desert.

“Kids in both of our five-day camps will take part in the tests using small weather balloons that we launch right here on the U of A campus,” said Mazzino. “The whole space storm monitoring device weighs 20 kilograms, so we’ll just be testing its smaller components.” 

And just like the space-camp weather balloon launched at last summer’s camp, there will be a camera onboard recording the launch to an altitude of 30 kilometres. A GPS unit included in the payload will help locate the downed balloon on the outskirts of the city. Mazzino says the wear and tear of the weather-balloon launch and the hard landing will be a good test for the durability of the sensitive solar storm monitoring equipment.

“This is a great opportunity for kids interested in space to see testing for a real NASA mission for themselves,” said Mazzino. In addition to launching weather balloons the space campers will build and launch model rockets and get some hands-on time with real meteorites from deep space. 

The five-day camps are run by the U of A’s Institute for Space Science Exploration and are designed for kids in Grades 7 to 9. The camps run Monday to Friday the weeks of July 4 and 11.

For more information on ISSET’s 2011 Space Academy follow this link:

To find out more about camp organizer Laura Mazzino and her goal of inspiring young scientists follow this link:  http://www.promise.ualberta.ca/en/Stories/UpUpAndAway.aspx