PORTLAND, OR – Despite a last minute launch site relocation due to wildfires, the Oregon Institute of Technology (Oregon Tech) Eclipse Ballooning Project team had a successful launch from Corvallis, Oregon yesterday. Before reaching an elevation of 106,000 feet and bursting as planned, the live stream sent out images of the shadow of the eclipse and the landscapes of Oregon from the coast to the Cascade mountain range. The launch also tested micro bacterial samples from NASA, which were airborne for a total of two hours before the balloon dropped its payload back to earth.

Yesterday’s launch began about 60 minutes before “totality” obscured the sun, and went without any major glitches, which faculty leaders attribute to pre-planning and multiple test launches. Members of the Oregon Tech team and the NASA researchers easily retrieved the payload, which had an embedded GPS tracking device, and had landed in a tree right above a paved road less than 10 miles from the launch site. One of 54 mainly university and school teams nationally, Oregon Tech’s core team of seven students and two faculty members began building the ballooning equipment more than a year ago. This included working with NASA’s Montana Space Grant to construct the payload, and getting F.A.A. permission to complete four equipment and test launches at locations in Klamath Falls, Astoria, Tualatin, and Detroit Lake, besides numerous tests and designs at Oregon Tech’s Portland-Metro Campus in Wilsonville.

The original launch site of Detroit Lake in Central Oregon fell through about a week ago when the White Water Fire made the planned launch and payload retrieval impossible. After considering a few locations, the Oregon Tech team was given permission by Oregon State University to use a field near the Crop Science building for the launch site, and to camp there for a few days prior to launch.

Oregon Tech Natural Sciences professor Leif Eccles, the team’s lead faculty member said, “It was a once-in-a-lifetime, hands-on teaching and learning experience. Our success had nothing to do with luck and everything to do with extensive preparation over two years, innovative engineering improvements we made to our systems, and of course, putting our trust in each other to distribute the complex tasks across the team. We had a few minor glitches right before launch but we solved all of them and achieved the live streaming, which not every team accomplished, and successfully launched and retrieved NASA’s and our payloads. Our thanks goes out to Catherine Lanier from the Oregon Space Grant Consortium, to OSU for use of their campus to launch our balloon, and to Portland State University who gave us a bigger balloon when our payload weight increased. Overall it was a unique, awe-inspiring day.”

Two NASA Ballooning Project researchers from Cornell University -- Daniela Bezdan, Research Director, and PhD student Alexa McIntyre -- worked with Oregon Tech’s team for several days to plan for adding their microbiological sample to the top of one of the payloads. Their key interest was the effect of air pressure, temperature and density on the sample. That atmospheric environment mimics one much like Mars, providing information that can serve research and exploration.

Besides NASA’s payload, the balloon carried video and still cameras, a GPS device and a cut-down mechanism for payload retrieval, and several “memorial” recognitions included for family members and friends by the team; with one recognizing Cmdr. William McCool, one of the astronauts who died in the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion.

All of the NASA Ballooning Project teams across the country were set up to live stream from http://eclipse.stream.live/ during the eclipse, although not all streams ended up working. Oregon Tech’s stream worked for a full two hours, and footage of the event will be posted to the team’s website: http://oitgrasp.wixsite.com/eclipse. During a June test launch, Oregon Tech’s video had impressive views of Mt. Jefferson and the Cascade Range and was deemed by NASA to have some of the best video quality of all participating teams.