The high altitude balloon launch was extremely exciting! My group put a baby mouse also known as a pinkie, a hard boiled egg, and a raw egg in one pod without a hole in it. My hypothesis for the pinkie was that it would explode. It actually just bled more and that was it. I thought the hard boiled egg would stay the same and it did. I thought the raw egg would have a scrambled yoke on the inside, but it stayed intact. In another pod that had a hole in it, there was a balloon filled with jello that was not set. I thought that the jello would set and it did! I loved this experience and I want to do it with my students in the future!
My teammate, Katie, and I designed three experiments. We were both interested in doing something with food, which inspired Katie to devise the perfect team name: “Space Foodies.” For our first experiment, we hypothesized that the near-vacuum environment of near space would cause popcorn kernels to pop. Second, we hypothesized that the “post-burst chaos” experienced by the experimental pods would agitate heavy whipping cream enough to make butter. Finally, we hypothesized that both the extreme cold of near-space (up to -90 degrees!) combined with the post-burst chaos would make us a nice smoothie (assuming we sent up unfrozen, unmixed ingredients).
The whipping cream and popcorn kernels were sent up in a “warm” box (that is, a totally sealed pod), while the smoothie ingredients were sent up in a “cold” box (a pod with a large hole cut into it to allow the cold to enter easily). Our results were mixed. The popcorn didn’t pop. After doing some research, I discovered some interesting arguments about the possibility of popcorn popping in the vacuum of space; most agreed that few, if any, kernels would pop, due to a variety of reasons: strength of the shell, not enough of a pressure difference, no heat to create the steam needed to produce a fluffy product. One person smartly pointed out that there are no videos of popcorn popping under vacuum conditions, so it’s probably not possible or very difficult.
We had greater success with our smoothie and butter experiments. First, the smoothie ingredients, which had been placed into a small bottle in layers (yogurt, then fruit on top), did indeed get mixed up nicely. The smoothie was also cold (and tasted delicious!), but was not frozen. However, the fact that the “cold” pod was exposed to the coldness of near-space meant that it was also quickly exposed to the heat of the Iowa cornfield in which it landed; monitoring the temperature of the smoothie would have shown just how cold the it got while in near-space (perhaps near or even at freezing), and how much it “thawed” before we recovered the pod in the hot field.
Finally, the whipping cream we sent to near space did indeed return as a soft butter. It, too, was delicious! After returning home form the chase, I put the butter into my refrigerator (but did not agitate it further), and it hardened to a nice spreadable consistency. Perhaps putting the container of cream into the “cold” pod would have yielded harder butter; we had elected to put the cream into the “warm” pod to avoid having the cream freeze before the onset of post-burst chaos. Next time, sending up two samples (one in a cold pod and one in a warm pod) would help answer this question.
Our group’s experiment was to see if a bottle of water could be in near space long enough to freeze and if so, at what point does it unfreeze. We also placed a watch in the pod to track the amount of time it took for the water to freeze and unfreeze. We set up a camera in the pod with the intent of viewing the water and the watch. Unfortunately, the camera did not have a long enough charge to record the process, but the water did come back very cold! I had a lot of fun launching the HAB and recovering our payloads. It was also very interesting seeing other team’s experiments!
I had a great experience with the HABL! I was a part of the “Space Foodies” team and we sent up an un-blended smoothie to see if it would mix, heavy whipping cream to test if it would make butter, and popcorn kernels to attempt to make popcorn! Out of the 3 experiments, I was the most confident about the heavy whipping cream and it actually did almost make butter! It was not exactly the correct consistency, but it was close. With the smoothie, the chunks of fruit did not blend but it did look more like a smoothie than it did before it went up to near space. The popcorn did not pop – I don’t think it had enough heat for the kernels to start the popping process. I really enjoyed the chase aspect of the launch and monitoring the path that the balloon was taking. As a math teacher, I think that the launch and flightpath of the balloon held the most mathematical applications that I could explore with my students. For example, this particular chase ended on the outskirts of a cornfield, and, as a math teacher would ask – what is the probability of that? I look forward to sharing my experience with my students in the Fall and incorporating the pictures and data into my lessons.