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SUNY ESF high altitude balloon goes missing

SUNY ESF students launching a high altitude balloon Wednesday

Some SUNY ESF students are hoping neighbors in the eastern portion of Cortland County can help them find a balloon that was part of a science experiment that went awry. 

Students launched a high altitude balloon for a nationwide contest on Wednesday.

Alyssa Endres, a student in the Environmental Resource Engineering Department, said it was supposed to explode when it got high enough.

"The air in the atmosphere is so low pressure that the helium expands and the air around it isn’t enough pressure to hold it in,” Endres said. “So the helium expands and the balloon bursts.”

After it bursts, a parachute should have safely brought the payload, which was made up of cameras and a tiny computer, back to Earth.  But students have lost track of that payload which also included a mobile phone with a GPS app. 

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO News
Students hope Cortland County residents will be on the lookout for the balloon's payload.


The students' best guess is that a catastrophic event took place that disintegrated the entire payload, or it landed in a dead zone, where there is no cell or radio coverage.  Students are hoping if a local person finds it somewhere in Cortland County, they’ll report the payload back to SUNY ESF.

Endres says even though things didn’t end perfectly, it was still a great learning experience.
"Lots of testing. We were throwing parachutes of windows to see what parachutes worked best. We had to do all the physics behind how much helium to put in the balloon and the lift in order to get the payload off the ground.”

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.