Ohio Students Send Weather Balloon to Edge of Space and Hope a Fighter Jet Does Not Destroy It With a Missile

Inside Edition got to spend an exciting day with students at Boardman Glenwood Middle School in Ohio as they attempted to launch a weather balloon into the stratosphere.

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a middle-school science project?

Inside Edition got to spend an exciting day with students at Boardman Glenwood Middle School in Ohio as they attempted to launch a weather balloon into the stratosphere.

This exciting launch comes just a few weeks after the government learned that China used a weather balloon to allegedly surveil and collect data about the United States.

The Biden administration destroyed the spy device in a carefully planned operation that involved waiting until the balloon was over the Atlantic Ocean because of the "undue risk to people across a wide area due to the size and altitude of the balloon and its surveillance payload" if the balloon was exploded over land.

At the same time, the Department of Defense was careful to avoid the possibility of an international incident by shooting down the balloon while it flew over U.S. territorial waters 

At least three more unidentified flying objects were shot down by the U.S. over the next two weeks.

Back in Ohio, students and staff were hoping that their balloon would not meet a similar fate.

"I don't think there's much chance that we get shot down today," Rick Eason tells Inside Edition.

Eason and his partner John Garesché were overseeing the launch that day for the students.

The two men founded a company Launch With Us that helps make people's dreams of sending a balloon high over the Earth a reality.

The company provides the necessary video and flight an equipment to make sure these balloons reach their intended height and capture it all on film, but perhaps most importantly they also file the paperwork with the Federal Aviation Administration that is necessary to avoid a military-grade missile torpedoing a school science project.

"What this does is this puts notice of where our balloon is, how high it's going, what direction is going in," Eason explains in the lead-up to launch. "And it gets into the system so pilots in their preflight briefing can see."

On the technical side, Eason and Garesché provide the nozzle necessary to keep the balloon airborne and continuing on its upward trajectory as it reaches higher altitudes, the device that will eventually detach the balloon and send it floating back down to earth, and perhaps most crucial, the tracking device that will allow them to locate the balloon when it (hopefully) touches back down on land.

T-minus 30 minutes, the very excited and very engaged students were busy putting the finishing touches on their work.

"We use weather balloons to gather data about like, all sorts of things," one young student tells Inside Edition. "And most people probably assume it's just weather because of the name, but it's not just weather. We're using it to gather all sorts of data and information."

Another budding scholar takes some time to explain the scientific research he will be conducting ahead of launch.

He is likely making history on that day, as the first American to ever send sun-dried tomato bread, jelly, Swedish Fish, and fruit snacks into the stratosphere.

"We are going to test all the different altitude levels and see how the oxygen affects that," he explains.

At T-minus 25, the balloon starts to take shape as the helium that will fuel its initial ascent is pumped in until it reaches capacity.

That process takes 20 minutes, and as the countdown begins the young scientists get the support of their fellow students as well as the school's faculty and staff, who line up outside to watch the launch.

Then it is time for lift-off.

The balloon encounters no problems, or pulverizing projectiles, as it ascends over the Earth for the next four hours, eventually reaching 100,000 feet — the attitude that many scientists consider to be the "edge of space."

Next, comes the least exciting part of the process — finding the balloon.

That too is handled by Eason and Garesché, who journey 170 miles from the launch spot to discover that the balloon did make it back down to Earth — almost.

The airborne apparatus experienced a bit of a roadblock on the way down in the form of a very tall pine tree and is currently dangling approximately 100 feet in the air.

Not to worry though, as the men have a lengthy pole they use in these situations and are able to free the balloon from the branches and bring it down to Earth.

No word yet on how the experiments went, but Garesché feels this has been a successful mission.

"This type of learning is probably the best learning you're going to get," Garesché says. "The hands-on, the problem-solving, they're applying what they're learning to real-world situations."

He continues: "When they see the data and they see the effects of the air pressure on their experiments, that 'wow' moment, it's very authentic and I hope it sparks them to seek careers in [science, technology, engineering, and math], and weather balloons and reporting and meteorology."

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