Students prepare to launch the balloons.
Mark Stone/UW
Students prepare to launch the balloons.

While many people donned viewing glasses and prepared to watch the solar eclipse on August 21, a group of 100 teens from Pacific Northwest tribes launched balloons thousands of feet into the air.

The high schoolers released balloons from Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs land in north central Oregon, in the path of totality. Close to 400 people, mainly tribal members and students, gathered to watch. The event, organized by University of Washington-based Washington NASA Space Grant Consortium and the Northwest Earth and Space Sciences Pipeline, was the largest effort involving Native American tribes during the eclipse.

In addition to launching the giant weather balloons, students from each school attached culturally significant items, called payloads, to the balloons and sent them high into the sky. Their artifacts nearly reached space before returning to the ground.

“This is the first time many of the students get to participate in a cutting-edge experiment of this type,” said the consortium’s director, Robert Winglee, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences. “Seeing their own payloads at the rim of space is quite exciting. This different perspective will hopefully awaken other ideas for gaining different perspectives on their own lives and their own career paths.


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