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Course overview

This course offers an introduction to academic scientific ballooning and a NASA-funded project called the Nationwide Eclipse Ballooning Project (NEBP). The course previews an upcoming field campaign during which teams across the nation will launch weather balloons into the stratosphere and collect data during two solar eclipses: an annular eclipse on Oct. 14, 2023, and a total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024.

Students in this course will study past eclipse ballooning flight campaigns and learn about common engineering platforms and payloads; sensors, electronics and data loggers; communication with ground stations; FAA regulations related to uncrewed balloon flights; and how to collect, analyze, and share eclipse ballooning data. Additionally, students will acquire complementary skills that support a future STEM career including teamwork, project management, communication, and how to support Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access in STEM.

Some participating teams will present this content as part of an instructor-led course in Spring 2023; other participating team members will access this content in an asynchronous manner. No matter the method, all content included in this course outline should be studied prior to Pod Leader workshops in May 2023 and student work in Summer 2023.

Prerequisites for this course material 


Learning objectives

Students who complete this course will:

  • Identify the details of planning a scientific stratospheric ballooning field campaign
  • Understand foundational information about eclipses, balloon flight trajectories, Earth’s atmosphere, and meteorology
  • Be able to design experiments and investigations for a ballooning field campaign
  • Know how to carry out science/engineering balloon-launch campaigns during eclipses
  • Apply best practices for collecting, analyzing, and disseminating results
  • Develop and apply STEM career skills such as communication, teamwork, and project management.
  • Exemplify foundational principles of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access in STEM.


No textbook is required for this course. Students will access scientific papers, multimedia modules, NASA websites, and other resources. All materials are open source and will be provided electronically/online. Internet access is required.

Recommended Schedule

This content has been organized to be learned over 14 Lessons (about the equivalent of a standard semester). It can also be modified to fit a quarter system; we recommend pacing it over two quarters rather than packing it into one. You can also move through the content in a self-paced fashion.

We recommend allocating approximately 3 hours per lesson for the content.

Video playlists

NEW: Posted 5/7/23

Intro to NEBP ballooning

This video playlist is an excellent introductory overview of ballooning from A to Z, including:

  • Welcome video
  • Mission planning
  • Advice to new teams
  • Safety considerations
  • Contingency planning: What could go wrong and how to prepare

Atmospheric Science Track basics

This video playlist includes the above plus more detail specific to the atmospheric track, such as 

  • Team member roles
  • Choosing a launch site - overview
  • Choosing a launch site - deep dive
  • Saving data

All videos in the playlists are also included in the detailed lessons below.

NOTE: This course includes many external links, including some NEBP documents and presentations that are hosted on and SCRIBD. These items are free to view and download, although as both are commercial sites, they may encourage you to purchase a subscription or other features. YOU DO NOT NEED TO SUBSCRIBE OR PURCHASE ANYTHING IN ORDER TO ACCESS THE NEBP MATERIALS.

We are committed to making all NEBP resources accessible to all people; if you are unable to access the resources for any reason, or would like to request them to be provided in alternate formats, please email

Lesson 1:  Introduction to the Nationwide Eclipse Ballooning Project

Lesson 2: Introduction to Scientific Ballooning

  • Lighter-than-air ballooning
  • Stratospheric weather ballooning
  • My STEM Career: How to use and document your NEBP experiences for your future.
    • NOTE: You will be introduced to this topic in Lesson 2, and it will become an important component throughout the project. Each subsequent lesson will include a reminder and a link to this page so you can document your journey into ballooning and all the new skills you learn.
  • This lesson also includes optional instructor material that will be quite useful for those who are new to ballooning: Stratospheric Ballooning for Educators: Getting Started

Lesson 3: Eclipses and Heliophysics

  • Eclipses and heliophysics – historical, contemporary, and worldviews
  • Citizen science and other SciAct projects

Lesson 4: Keys to a successful field campaign

  • How to plan a field campaign – teamwork, roles, materials, scheduling
  • New video posted 4/4/23: Advice for new teams
  • Introduction to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Access in STEM

Lesson 5: Preparing to launch

    • Ballooning for scientific data collection
    • Lessons learned from previous eclipse campaigns
    • Mission planning—Project management, constraints, risks, safety and operations
      • Safety and risk - new video posted April 2, 2023
    • Balloon trajectory predictions
    • Launch site selection - new content posted April 2, 2023

Lesson 6: Meteorology and the Weather Research and Forecasting model

  • Introduction to meteorology and Earth’s atmosphere for balloon flights
  • Weather Research and Forecasting model (WRF)

Lesson 7: The Atmospheric Boundary Layer

  • Introduction to the Atmospheric Boundary Layer

Lesson 8: Atmospheric gravity waves

  • Introduction to atmospheric gravity waves

Lesson 9: Gravity wave observations

  • Gravity wave observations
  • Gravity waves from the engineering track perspective

Lesson 10: Teamwork and communication

  • Teamwork and communication
  • Roles and responsibilities during a campaign
  • NEW (posted 4/2/23): Video on team member roles

Lesson 11: Radiosondes and networks

  • Introduction to radiosondes and networks
  • Checklists
    • Initialization checklist
    • Primary fill checklist
    • Secondary fill checklist
  • How your National Weather Service launches balloons

Lesson 12: Data collection and analysis

  • Data collection and analysis
  • Lufft weather station
  • Grawmet software

Lesson 13: Final launch preparation

  • [NEW: Posted 4/26/23] Contingency Planning: What Could Go Wrong and How to Prepare
  • Final launch preparation:
    • Schedule and timing of events pre- and post- flight;
    • launch kits / packing lists
  • FAA regulations related to unmanned balloon flights
  • Wrapping up a field campaign
  • Communicating science to peers and to the public - coming soon

To wrap up the course, we recommend:

  • Final assessments and debriefs
  • Summer plans; flight practices
  • Talk with students about STEM career exploration – what will be their next steps?