2017-05-10 / School News

Berkeley Springs High School launches first weather balloon

by Kate Evans


Here’s an aerial view of Berkeley Springs High School as seen from the weather balloon camera just after the balloon’s April 28 launch. Here’s an aerial view of Berkeley Springs High School as seen from the weather balloon camera just after the balloon’s April 28 launch. Berkeley Springs High School science teacher John Brode and his earth and space science and Honors Physics classes had blue skies, light winds and the perfect day to launch the school’s first weather balloon into near space from the school courtyard on Friday, April 28. More than 80 of Brode’s students were involved in the project.

The weather balloon took flight at 10:30 a.m., was in the air for two hours and nine minutes and reached a maximum altitude of 95,220 feet, Brode said. Many school classes came outdoors to watch the launch.

Brode’s students put helium in the balloon, tied it off and attached its payload-a styrofoam cooler that contained cameras, a tracking device and a data collector-and then released the weather balloon into the atmosphere. The balloon also had a parachute and a radar reflector.


This photo of the moment of the April 28 Berkeley Springs High School weather balloon launch was taken by the camera inside the balloon’s payload. Pictured are students Patrick Raymond, left, and Josh Hartman, right. This photo of the moment of the April 28 Berkeley Springs High School weather balloon launch was taken by the camera inside the balloon’s payload. Pictured are students Patrick Raymond, left, and Josh Hartman, right. The kids designed and built it and had laptop computers at the launch site to track the weather balloon and its payload, Brode said. He checked everything before the launch.

Landed in Pennsylvania

Brode said their weather balloon landed just north of Hanover, Pennsylvania within 500 yards of where he thought it would come down. Hanover is around 14 miles southeast of Gettysburg. Brode and his son Daniel Brode recovered the balloon’s payload in a wooded area the next day after Brode’s Friday search for it came up empty. Brode believed that it landed 50 feet up in a tree from its data and an overnight storm blew it down to two inches above ground.


Up, up and away! The Berkeley Springs High School weather balloon is seen shortly after its release on Friday, April 28. The weather balloon launch was a project of high school science teacher John Brode and his earth and space and Honors Physics classes. photo by Brice Williams Up, up and away! The Berkeley Springs High School weather balloon is seen shortly after its release on Friday, April 28. The weather balloon launch was a project of high school science teacher John Brode and his earth and space and Honors Physics classes. photo by Brice Williams The balloon’s camera captured some awesome aerial still photography and video of landscapes such as Berkeley Springs, the Potomac River and area farmland, towns and cities including the city of Hagerstown on its journey, Brode said.

“It was up so high and looking through clouds at times,” he said.

The weather balloon’s equipment tracked data such as altitude, GPS coordinates, temperature, humidity, pressure and wind speed during its flight. Students will analyze the recorded data from the weather balloon and report on their findings.


Berkeley Springs High School students and science teacher John Brode (third from left) tie off the weather balloon after it’s been filled with helium prior to its Friday, April 28 launch. Seen are (left to right) Nathan Mason (sitting), Shenandoah Braithwaite, teacher John Brode, Seth Lantz, Cody Miller and Josh Hartman. Patrick Raymond is also tying the balloon. photo by Brice Williams Berkeley Springs High School students and science teacher John Brode (third from left) tie off the weather balloon after it’s been filled with helium prior to its Friday, April 28 launch. Seen are (left to right) Nathan Mason (sitting), Shenandoah Braithwaite, teacher John Brode, Seth Lantz, Cody Miller and Josh Hartman. Patrick Raymond is also tying the balloon. photo by Brice Williams Local ham radio operator Alex MacDonald and science teacher Jeff Hankey’s experimental design class assisted with the project and teacher Brice William videotaped the launch. WHAG-TV also filmed and broadcast the launch, which can be found on their website.

STEM project

Brode said the hands-on balloon launch project included all areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Students researched designs, materials and costs and created a project budget. Teens also researched federal aviation guidelines and safety procedures and potential landing locations and did computer simulations to project the balloon’s landing site under different weather conditions.


John Brode, Berkeley Springs High School science teacher, is seen with the recovered weather balloon payload-a styrofoam cooler containing cameras, a tracking device and data collectors. It was recovered in a wooded area near Hanover, Pa. the day after the balloon’s release. photo by Daniel Brode John Brode, Berkeley Springs High School science teacher, is seen with the recovered weather balloon payload-a styrofoam cooler containing cameras, a tracking device and data collectors. It was recovered in a wooded area near Hanover, Pa. the day after the balloon’s release. photo by Daniel Brode Brode said they contacted schools that had done similar projects and also communicated with the National Weather Service in Sterling, Virginia. The agency launches weather balloons twice a day across the United States.

Brode said that everyone enjoyed the project, which his students worked on for more than three months. It was one of the best activities he’s ever done with students-to actually be able to send something up into space. He plans on doing a weather balloon launch every year.

Regarding their project, Brode quoted the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates who said: “Man must rise above the earth—to the top of the atmosphere and beyond— for only thus will he fully understand the world in which he lives.”

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