Another great step for Elementa School


While pupils of the private Elementa day school in Menzingen did not themselves take off into space, they did the next best thing and sent up three large weather balloons, one of which was equipped with a camera, in the hope of getting some stunning aerial photographs of northern Switzerland.
 
Some 14 pupils, both boys and girls, had carefully done all the scientific and technical planning in the months before under the expert guidance of their teacher Reto Speerli. Readers may remember the outstanding photographs taken from a weather balloon he and his half-brother, Alexander, launched in a trial run earlier this year.
 
Preparations for last weekend's launch had taken place on previous Saturdays on a voluntary basis. It was 9-year-old Ricardo's job to go through the check-list prior to launching the three balloons, named appropriately Icarus 1, 2 and 3. Icarus 1 was fitted with a cine-camera while Icarus 2 was for still photographs. Icarus 3's job was to measure data about the air. While none of the pupils was able to take off, an action-man type model, aptly named Icarus Armstrong, was attached to Icarus 2, representing each one of them.
 
Speerli had bought the weather balloons in England and they were each filled with helium in front of the excited gathering, made up not just of pupils but of their parents and brothers and sisters, too. "The balloons will reach an altitude of about 30 kilometres," explained Speerli, "and in the end they just burst but a capsule with all the important information falls to earth and lands gently thanks to a parachute."
 
Naturally Speerli had not been able to explain all the physics involved in such flights but it was his main intention to enthuse his pupils to such an extent that they would want to find out more themselves, something in which he has clearly been very successful.
 
Rather than head to Cape Canaveral, the school yard was used as a launch pad and there was great excitement as the countdown began shortly before 3 pm. "I just hope our balloons do not collide with a passing plane," said a concerned Ricardo, as his schoolmate Joshua followed the launch through a telescope." Based on the wind direction and other calculations, the pupils had worked out that the capsule could come down over the border with Germany, some 30 kilometres to the north of Schaffhausen.
 
Speerli was pleased with how everything went and  plans to repeat the experience with other classes. Ricardo already has ideas for the next stage. "We are aiming for the moon next time," he said. Before then, however, they are all heading for Lucerne, where they have been invited to present their project at the Transport Museum in autumn.    


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