Robert Black (blue jacket) prepares North Medford High School's high-altitude balloon for a test launch last fall. Another launch is planned April 23 at ScienceWorks. Photo courtesy Robert Black

Test launch

ASHLAND — A group of North Medford High School students who will participate in a NASA high altitude solar photography project will celebrate Earth Day by conducting a test launch of the balloon that will carry their camera high into the sky.

The launch will be sometime between noon and 2 p.m. Saturday, April 23, at ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum, 1500 E. Main St., Ashland. It will be during the Rogue Valley Earth Day Event, held 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission to the outdoor event and the museum will be free.

The test is part of a nationwide NASA-sponsored project intended to cap with a large-scale photography session during a total solar eclipse that will take place Aug. 21, 2017.

"At 10:17am the moon will block all of the light from the Sun creating a few minutes of darkness. Our team will attempt to film the event from over 80,000 ft (15 miles)," a statement on the North Medford project website reads.

North Medford is one of 55 college and high school-level teams participating. The team includes sophomores Saxon Pelzel, Sam Leach, Alex Hoppe, Casey Custer, Reyna Kirchel, Sarah Tang, Aproovha Singh, Emily Christianson, Nick Winetrout and Charles Curl. Adult mentors include North Medford astronomy teacher Robert Black, photographer John Bunyan, data consultant Colin White, Sean Curry and Steve Skoog. Other Oregon teams will launch from the Oregon Institute of Technology and Oregon State University.

The captured images will be streamed live on the NASA website for anyone to see.

"A lot of people are going to want to see the event in real time," Black said.

NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will also collaborate on their own launch. Both entities will use 1,000 radiosonde balloons — the balloons are similar to what the National Weather Service sends up twice a day — to gather "important science data on eclipse stratospheric temperature and ozone fluctuations" during the eclipse, according to the Eclipse Ballooning Project website.

Black, Bunyan and White will travel to Montana this May to be trained on the NASA payload so teams are better coordinated during the event.

"The team effort is to get everybody on the same page," Black said.

At the ScienceWorks event, some of the team members will stay on site to share information about the project, along with the tracking data coming from the balloon. Two chase teams will go to retrieve the balloon, which can travel 100 miles and could travel as high as 100,000 feet before popping.

A ScienceWorks news release says the team still needs about $7,000 for equipment so they can carry out additional practice flights. The museum will support the funding effort by matching public donations dollar-for-dollar. More information on donating can be found at

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or Follow him at

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