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3/23/11 - Titans in Space: Ridgeland students to launch, track balloon

Middle school students in Ridgeland will become junior engineers and scientists this weekend as they coordinate a "near-space" launch.

Students with Olde Towne Middle School's Radio and Technology Club and Science Team are partnering with Mississippi State University's Bagley College of Engineering to launch and track a weather balloon. They have scheduled the release for 9 a.m. Saturday [March 26] at the Madison County Career and Technical Center in Madison [142 Calhoun Parkway].

After assembling the equipment, the team will monitor the flight after launch. With attached instruments to provide location and a camera making photographs every 10 seconds, the balloon will enable them to analyze the transmitted data.

Teacher Bill Richardson, the club's adviser, said members have worked on the project for about six months. He said the event is being dubbed "Titans in Space," a tribute to the school mascot.

"This will help inspire students to learn more about space and look into science and engineering fields as possible career paths," said Richardson, a graduate of the Amateur Radio Relay League's Teacher Institute.

Professor Keith Koenig of Mississippi State's aerospace engineering department said the department is providing the weather balloon, attached equipment and other supplies, with funding provided by the Mississippi/NASA Space Grant Program.

Departmental staff also will assist at the launch site, he added.

Richardson said the school secured funding for the project through donations and fundraisers, along with sponsorships from Cellular South, MiFi, Omega Tech, DF Doppler Instrument, and the Jackson Amateur Radio Club

Tethered to the ground, the balloon initially will expand to about seven feet in diameter. In rising to an ultimate altitude of 100,000 feet, it will expand more than four times to some 30 feet.

Richardson said the general public may monitor the project on Twitter by following the account named "kc5nxd."

In tracking the airborne sphere's flight path, the Madison middle school students and Jackson-area ham radio enthusiasts will be joined from the Mississippi State campus by members of the university's amateur radio club, said J.W. Bruce. An associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, Bruce is MSU radio club adviser.

Among others providing moral support is the California-based Sally Ride Foundation, which has sent letters of encouragement and advanced congratulations to the project participants. The foundation is named after the NASA astronaut who, in 1983, became first American woman to fly in space.

ROBBIE WARD | University Relations

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