NASA launches balloons to test atmosphere

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Friday, August 9, 2013 - 11:58am

Several balloons will be flying over St. Louis University over the next few months. As Patrick Clark reports, it's all part of an experiment with NASA to learn more about the air we breathe.

The air we breath is important to Joseph Wilkins, "I grew up next to a power plant in Louisville Kentucky. It's like living in the Ohio Valley it's like really bad. You know, I grew up with asthma too. Everyone has asthma, pretty much. Well, you go there, you get asthma. So to actually be able to do something about it is a blessing, you know, it's great."

Wilkins as one of a handful of St. Louis University and Valparaiso students working together to study the atmosphere and St. Louis' location at the center of the U.S.

Gary Morris, Professor, Valparaiso Univ., "Sometimes the pollution can come from the West, sometimes it can come from the Ohio River Valley, Chicago and industrial centers to the East of us. So the balloons are going to help us track the pollution and understand it's sources."

The Science Center was the sight of the test flight, SLU is working with NASA to send weather balloons into thin air to gather information about ozone levels.

Jack Fishman, Professor, St. Louis Univ., "So these measurements serve as ground truth and in this case, balloon truth of what we see from space."

Everyday, balloons like this will lift off through mid-September

The launches coincide with satellite overpasses to measure air quality.

Gary Morris, "The balloons ascend to about100 thousand feet and when the balloon's pop there's a parachute that inflates and brings them back to Earth."

But the project almost didn't get off the ground due to a helium shortage.

Jack Fishman, "That was one of the big no-go decisions possibly, can we get hold of the helium. I know at St. Louis University we're having trouble getting helium for launches."

But with the help from NASA, the launch was a success and what goes up must come down.

So if a white styrofoam cooler drops into your driveway, call the number and SLU will pay you $30 to get their instruments back.

Which is what Joseph Wilkins is hoping you'll do if you find one of these

Joseph Wilkins, "Successful experiment today so so far everything is working good."

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