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High-Altitude Balloon Project

In April of 2010, Associate Professor Mike Zerbe of Ohio’s Stark State College came across the web page of three Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) students who had recently launched a weather balloon attached with a camera and global positioning system (GPS). Their website contains dramatic photographs of the Earth from nearly 100,000 feet high in the stratosphere. They also boasted of completing their project on a $350 budget.

Professor Zerbe shared the site with Stark State’s Associate Professor Eric Loew and the Director of Campus Library, Marcia Addison. Together, under the team name of EM2, they became determined to launch their own high-altitude balloon. Following several months of weekly meetings, they launched their first balloon, Zaius I, from Uniontown, Ohio, on Saturday, October 2, 2010. Unfortunately, the GPS failed and the balloon was lost in orbit as it drifted east across Ohio.

Determined, they regrouped a couple of weeks later, using a more reliable GPS, and launched Zaius II from Orrville, Ohio, on Saturday, October 16, 2010. This time, the GPS worked, and the balloon was tracked as it ascended, drifted about 68 miles southeast, burst, and fell into a landfill near Steubenville, Ohio. With the help of the landfill’s owners, the members of EM2 were able to retrieve the packaged camera and video recorder from the balloon’s payload, containing a 60-minute video of the flight’s ascension and over 500 pictures taken every 15 seconds from its launch to its landing in an oak tree.

Miraculously, two weeks later, a month after the 1st launch was lost, a Pennsylvania hunter stumbled across Zaius I in a small clearing in the Pennsylvania woods 127 miles east of the launch site. The launch produced more than 1400 idyllic pictures of the Earth from as high as 141,000 feet—nearly 27 miles in the stratosphere!

The members of Team EM2 are planning a launch of Zaius III for the fall 2011.