K-12 OUTREACH FLIGHTS
The Wyoming NASA Space Grant has been launching high-altitude balloons with K-12 schools and organizations across Wyoming since 2014. This is our bread and butter, the central focus of our high-altitude balloon program. The primary purpose of the program has been to generate interest and excitement in STEM by allowing K-12 students to fly their own payloads to the edge of space.
Although the program has been quite successful, impacting more than 2,500 students in Wyoming as of 2022, we are always looking for ways to improve the experience for our participants. This page provides information for teachers and educators about how to get involved with our high-altitude balloon program.
Hosting a K-12 Balloon Launch
These types of launches are available to all public and private K-12 schools, homeschool groups, afterschool programs, summer camps, and other K-12 educational organizations located in Wyoming. We are always looking to work with new groups, especially those that serve minority or underrepresented students.
REQUESTING A LAUNCH
If you’d like to host us for a balloon launch at your school or organization, the first step is to do some homework about our program. Make sure you understand our expectations for the student payloads as described further down on this page. We also strongly recommend that you read through our Balloon Launch 101 and Ballooning FAQ pages to learn more about how our balloon launches work.
The next step is to formally request a balloon launch using our online K-12 Balloon Launch Request Form. You can do so by clicking on the button below. Filling out and submitting this form will officially put you on our radar. We will reach out to you soon after to schedule the launch and begin discussing next steps.
Developing K-12 Student Payloads
We currently have only a few constraints for our K-12 student payloads. Well before the launch, we will send the K-12 group a set of empty payload boxes that can be used to house the student payloads. The teacher and students then work together to decide what items, materials, and experiments to mount within or to the outside of the boxes. As long as the payloads abide by the limited constraints described below, we will fly them.
The payload constraints are as follows:
- The total combined weight of all student payload boxes cannot exceed 6 lbs
- The payloads may not include live animals; items or materials that are highly flammable, combustible, or explosive; or anything that is otherwise illegal to possess
- There should not be any sharply pointed objects protruding from the payload boxes
- Liquids should be used conservatively and enclosed in sealed plastic bags
DRAWBACKS TO THE CURRENT APPROACH
In our experience, this one-size-fits-all approach to payload development has a few major drawbacks. These include the following:
- It does not provide teachers with much guidance on how to encourage good payload development
- Lack of guidance means that the payloads are sometimes “thrown together” at the last minute
- Items or materials are often chosen without much thought as to why they are being included in the payload
- The contents of the payloads are rarely documented ahead of time
A good payload experiment includes, at minimum, a thorough description of the experiment, a hypothesis, and a means to measure the results. Students should ask questions like: Why am I including this item in the payload box? What do I think will happen? How will I know if my prediction is correct?
In the future, we hope to encourage more scientific thinking during payload development by raising our expectations for middle and high school students. We would also like to provide more online resources and hands-on guidance for teachers. We plan to gradually roll this out during the 2022–23 school year.