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Local College Joins NASA Moon Shadow Project

On August 21, most of the country will pause and look up to the sky to observe the Great American Eclipse.  If you aren't able to make it outside for the astronomical event, no worries. NASA is planning to live stream the eclipse using cameras attached to high altitude balloons.  A local community college is part of thehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0TGsXB0RUU"> balloon project.  BPR's Helen Chickering has details. 

“Guys, what we have here is what we’re going to be sending up during the Eclipse.”

A group of Middle School Campers attending Southwestern Community College Summer Stem Academy are getting a sneak preview of the Eclipse Ballooning Project.  

“The balloon gets like this big around.”

They are in a classroom gathered around a giant deflated balloon.

“How do you get it to fly so high?”

“Helium. You fill it with lots and lots of helium!”  answers Jesse Moore, a recent SCC graduate, who is  one of the leaders of the Southwestern Community College balloon team, one of about 50 teams chosen for a NASA sponsored collaborate effort to live stream footage of the Moon’s shadow during the August 21 total solar eclipse from the edge of space – something that’s never been done before.

“And just like your standing on the ground, looking up at the eclipse, it will be looking down and you’ll be able to see the shadow go across the earth, “says Moore.

Images and video that will be captured by on board cameras and transmitted On board the balloons are modems for transmitting video and still images to aNASA website, the balloon teams will be stationed along the path of totality – from off the Oregon Coast to the Carolinas.  The SCC team will launch in Anderson, South Carolina.

“We’re trying really hard to keep it in totality, but once you let it goes, it’s in God’s hands where it goes, but we’re doing everything we can with calculations, flight trajectories and everything to make sure when we where we let it go from, that we’re going to be in path of totality within 60-90 thousand feet

The balloon project is just one of a series of NASA funded projects the Community College will launch over the next few years.  In 2016 – SCC was awarded a major grant from NASA to boost the region’s STEM education – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math and is the only community college in the nation involved in a science cooperative agreement with NASA, Lynda Parlett is director of institutional development.   

“Our school district is hungry for resources, many times it’s  thought that the state ends in Asheville. There is a whole community thriving here in the western part of the state and this is bringing resources this area has never had before, excitement around science engineering, math and technology.”

So much excitement, that physics professorMatt Cass, who is also the principal investigator of the Smoky Mountain STEM Collaborative has spent the summer taking classes so the college can beef up its astronomy offerings.

“We hope to carry this momentum,  using the eclipse to keep people interested and active in science and active and interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers.”     

“Oooh cool!”

The cool factor definitely engaged this group as they watched video of one of the practice runs. The SCC team launches for real, streaming live for the whole world to watch – on August 21.    For BPR news, I’m Helen Chickering.

Click https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0TGsXB0RUU">here to view a video of the SCC Balloon team's practice run and here for the NASA  Eclipse Ballooning Project  website.

Helen Chickering is a host and reporter on Blue Ridge Public Radio. She joined the station in November 2014.