Shaftesbury students lift off into outer space


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This article was published 01/12/2010 (4328 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s a high school experiment that is literally out of this world.

A group of students at Shaftesbury High School are testing their scientific and technical wits to launch weather balloons into space and capture footage of the incredible journey.

The group — known as the Shaftesbury High Altitude Robotics Project — launched their first balloon Oct. 22 at the Elkhorn Resort, near Dauphin. The balloon traveled up 107,000 feet and landed in a farmers field 15 kilometres away from the school

Matt Preprost Justin Sugita, a Grade 12 student at Shaftesbury High School, solders away for the Shaftesbury High Altitude Robotics Project.

“It was the best thing ever, we were so excited,” said Grade 12 student Florentina Tolaj. “We launched it and it took us two hours to chase it and recover it. Then we had to come home, but no one wanted to go home. We’re like ‘We just want to go to school and see the footage,’ that’s how big it was for us.

“This thing went in to space, everyone wants to touch it, it felt really awesome.”

The extra-curricular club was the brainchild of teacher-librarian Mike Friesen, who brought the idea to the school after learning about a similar project online that involved a group of students in Spain.

“I’ve always been something of a space nerd, and so the idea of being able to get our kids to build something that can launch into space and get pictures and dramatic footage was a real exciting idea,” he said. “We had a lot of enthusiastic students who were interested in doing it and dedicated science teachers to make it happen.”

The first launch was a year-long process, which saw students divided up into five different groups.

Teachers had them tackle everything from communication and construction issues to writing grant applications to help pay for the $3,000 cost of the project.

“The kids that have come out for this group are not the kids you would have thought,” said science teacher April McKnight.

“You think, ‘OK, we’re going to send something into space,’ you get all the science geeks, but we don’t. We have the everyday kids who just have interest in different areas saying, ‘That would be neat, how can I help?’ ”

The group’s diversity helped teach the kids how to solve problems together and work as a team, members say.

“We have all these different groups so we have to all work together, and always communicate and we meet every week or more,” said Grade 12 student Justin Sugita, who led the technical crew. “And it’s not only during lunchtime when we meet — I get messages at home, emails, phone calls, in the middle of classes asking me “Oh, I have this idea. Will it work with your idea?’ ”

The group is in the midst of planning a bigger launch for May. They will partner up with the Canadian Mennonite University, which will donate bacteria and other organisms so the students can incorporate biological testing into the launch.

“We’re going to send bacteria to see if anything happens from the radiation. We’re going to do some solar testing, we’re going to put a little marshmallow to see what the vacuum state will do, if it expands real crazy,” McKnight said.

To view the space footage the students captured, visit

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