Where were you on February 26th, 1979? During 1979 Jimmy Carter was the 39th president of the United States, the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl 13 and McDonald’s introduced the Happy Meal. 1979 saw Voyager I reveal the rings of Jupiter and discover the first extraterrestrial volcano on Jupiter’s moon Io while NASA received delivery of its first space shuttle, Columbia, to the Kennedy Space Center. Just before 3:30pm PST on February 26th, 1979 a small slice of the northwestern United States briefly plunged into darkness revealing stars and the planets Mercury, Venus and Mars as the Moon’s pinpoint of a shadow traversed the Earth’s surface on its trek towards central Canada and finally the Arctic Circle. This was the most recent total solar eclipse the continental United States has experienced. Now, after a drought of nearly four decades, the United States will be treated to the Great American Eclipse.
Total eclipses are rare and very impactful events. For those who have witnessed them, it is a memory they keep forever. The NASA Space Grant network is in a unique position to engage the public in an awe-inspiring and educational way and for surprisingly small cost. Students will conduct high altitude balloon (HAB) flights from around 25 locations across the 8/21/2017 total eclipse path, from Oregon to South Carolina, sending live video and images from near space to the NASA website. While the cost of conducting HAB flights is low, there are interesting challenges presented by this highly collaborative effort. These challenges are broad – technical, political, administrative – and present an amazing hands-on learning opportunity for the students who participate. Several potentially long lasting partnerships with other federal agencies and with industry will develop. Several partnerships, including with ATA Aerospace, which conducted the Red Bull Stratos flight, are already in progress.
In addition to the primary camera payloads that students will build to provide footage of the moon’s shadow on Earth and the darkened sun, each team will fly a secondary payload of their choice. Links to information and pictures about each team’s secondary payload will be included online. In a second effort in collaboration with NOAA, dozens radiosonde balloons will be flown to gather important science data on eclipse stratospheric temperature and ozone fluctuations.
Come share this unique and awe inspiring experience with us via live video brought to you from the edge of space on August 21st, 2017.