GOOGLE'S Matt Dunlap, left, of Mountain View fills a weather balloon with helium in preparation for its flight into the upper atmosphere Saturday at Union Mine High School in El Dorado. Democrat photo by Pat Dollins
A team of Google, NASA, and San Jose State University engineers made an early morning trek from the Bay Area to a baseball field at Union Mine High School in El Dorado last Saturday morning to launch a couple of helium-filled weather balloons into the upper reaches of the stratosphere.
The balloons carry cameras, radio and GPS tracking instruments to altitudes well above 90,000 feet, over 18.5 miles. As the balloons rise, they expand to the point where they burst and eventually fall back to earth. A small parachute is used to bring the cameras and electronics back as gently as possible.
The instruments carried by the balloons launched Saturday transmitted a radio frequency that allowed ground crews to track the flight path and ultimately recover the payload at the end of the day, including photos taken during the flight.
The first balloon launched reached an altitude of 96,000 feet. The second balloon reached 98,000 feet. Both payloads were recovered several hours later in farmers’ fields a few miles south of Turlock.