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Weather balloon saga, Part 2

July 14, 2014 - Deb Gau
This past weekend turned out to be a lot more eventful than I had expected. On Sunday, I went out to what I thought was a quick photo op of a science project, and ended up staying for a couple hours to help a visiting family from Maryland build a homemade weather balloon.

It all started I got a call from Glenn Olson at the city office Friday afternoon. He said a family would be bringing their kids to Marshall over the weekend to release a weather balloon at Windstar Park. Brett and Alana Fine and their four children (well, their three older children, anyway — Lily, the youngest, isn’t quite two yet) had been planning this project for weeks and weeks. The Fines have Minnesota connections in Minneapolis and spend part of the summer there, but they picked Marshall as a launch site because the area had fewer trees and buildings the balloon could get caught on.

I don’t know what I was really expecting when the Fines arrived at the park. I kind of thought the balloon would already be rigged up and ready to go, but Brett and Alana started unpacking all sorts of materials like Styrofoam panels, strips of Velcro, and cold-tolerant duct tape. All of that stuff had to be assembled on-site, because the digital cameras the balloon would carry had to be turned on before being sealed up in a Styrofoam capsule. And of course, getting everything set up took a bit of trial and error.

The Fines were lots of fun to talk to. The kids, Gabriella, Zachary and Sylvia, were outgoing and chatty, which is always nice when you’re trying to interview someone. I even got recruited to help out with holding some parachute lines, and moving the equipment out of the southwest Minnesota wind. I think I was just as relieved as the Fines were that Marshall resident Dave Voigt gave them the OK to work in his back yard, and that the balloon finally got airborne after a few near-misses.

The best part of the experience, however, was getting an e-mail update from the Fines last night. Using a GPS tracker, they caught up with the balloon a few hours later. They said it drifted southeast from Marshall, crossed Highway 14, and landed in a field near Lamberton. Brett Fine said a local family gave him a lift on their four-wheeler to go pick up the balloon. The cameras attached to the balloon had done their job, too.

“From the look of the pictures I think we were only about two miles up,” Brett Fine said in the e-mail. “We needed more helium, and will probably fill the balloon in a garage of some sort next time. Still, a successful — if not fully complete — mission.”

The Fines promised to send me some of the aerial photos the balloon took. I’m excited to see them, and when I get them, I’ll be sure to post them here.


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