Search for a missing weather balloon in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

CANAB, Utah — There’s a lot of empty space at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah.

“We are so huge. We’re bigger than the state of Delaware,” said ranger Danny Pollard.

Most of it is about as remote as it gets, and somewhere in all that open terrain is a weather balloon that crashed just a few weeks ago.

“When I got that phone call, I was like, ‘Oh wow, this is a lot more than where can I go hiking, or where’s the best hotel I can spend a night, or where can I I get the best fried steak chicken? It was something a little tidier,” Pollard said.

Pollard, who works with the Bureau of Land Management in Utah, assembled a team to find the GPB tracking beacon of this weather balloon. They searched for nearly four hours in the dark but were able to find him about eight miles from Nipple Bench Road.

“I’m just glad we didn’t find it strewn across a million coin mile,” Pollard said.

However, the part of the weather balloon case that contained experiments and data was not there.

“Hopefully with enough eyes and enough boots we can find it,” he said.

This weather balloon was launched as part of a school project in Hercules, California last month. It was a collaboration between Vista Virtual Academy and Hercules Middle School.

“One of our main goals is to learn through meaningful connections and experiences,” said Olaoluwalotobi Thomas, science teacher at Vista Virtual Academy. “Our district curriculum had a learning segment on atmospheric science.”

Thomas is the kind of teacher who speaks with enthusiasm, enthusiasm and passion.

When he told his students about launching a weather balloon into the ozone layer, his excitement spread to them.

“When students see me excited, and I see some of them excited, I get even more excited. So we’re like leaning on each other,” Thomas said with a laugh.

Their parents and other community members raised $1,000 for the project.

Data loggers attached to the weather balloon would record video and take data from the atmosphere. The students even filed NOTAM (Notice to Air Missions) documents with the FAA.

In the morning they launched it, however, they immediately noticed that something was wrong.

“Oh, yeah, like instantly. We knew something was wrong. As soon as we drop the payload. I saw so many children jumping. We were all trying to catch him, but he was already gone,” Thomas said.

The problem was a helium miscalculation.

“The elevator was extremely slow. After following it for about 30 minutes, we did some math. We saw that the initial lift was about 0.8 meters per second, and that’s like two miles per hour, well below our desired lift, which was about 4.5 to 5 meters per second,” Thomas said.

The flight was supposed to last two hours, but he continued.

It flew over California, then Nevada, before the balloon burst over Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah.

“It was the first time I had heard of the Grand Staircase,” Thomas said with a laugh.

He called the rangers with the Monument to let them know where the GPS beacon was.

When Pollard told him he had found the beacon, but the rest of the project was still missing, he asked if the rangers could help spread the word to hikers in the area to be on the lookout. data loggers.

“To recover this on-board computer with the sensors and video footage would have means so much to us,” Thomas said. “I mean, a major message in our science classes that we try to convey to students that we want to learn from every situation.”

Even though this assignment didn’t go exactly as planned, Thomas says it’s still a great learning moment for his students.

“One thing I tell students is that a lot of things we use today were accidental, like experiments and inventions,” he said. “So it’s, you know, accidents are sometimes a really good thing in science.”

At least his students have learned where the Grand Staircase is and how far away it is.

Pollard knows that some people will come looking for him. He wants those who might be new to the area to know how unforgiving the land can be.

“Take a map. Cell service is very limited. We also recommend geo-referencing maps,” he said. “Our visitor centers have paper maps. Take them with you. Tell someone you’re going there. Grab a tow strap. It’s an adventure, but be careful out there.

If someone finds the data loggers, Pollard says you can take them to any ranger’s office or visitor center, and they’ll make sure the equipment is returned to the students.

“Hopefully it doesn’t turn out like Montezuma’s gold, you know, and we’re looking at the next 20 years,” Pollard said with a laugh.

Those data loggers are out there somewhere, just waiting to be found.