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Sixth-graders to get taste of scientific ballooning

About 550 sixth-graders will get a taste of scientific ballooning when the Suborbital Center of Excellence at New Mexico State University presents its annual student conference May 2 and 3 in the Corbett Center Student Union.


rt to the Stratosphere" will engage the students in hands-on science and mathematics activities that relate to high-altitude scientific ballooning of the type that NMSU's Physical Science Laboratory does for NASA.

The Suborbital Center of Excellence (SCE), funded by NASA, was established five years ago to promote education, research and outreach in suborbital space engineering and science. Suborbital platforms include high-altitude balloons, sounding rockets, research aircraft and small satellites.

Marie Borchert, the SCE's director of education and outreach, said students and teachers from Picacho, Lynn, Sierra and Zia middle schools will participate in this year's student conference, the fourth to be sponsored by the center.

"During the hands-on portion of the workshop, the students will be determining the volume of a balloon, determining the effects of temperature on balloon volume, measuring the lift capacity of balloons and measuring the rate of ascent," Borchert said. "They also will participate in a slow balloon race."

The object of the balloon race, using helium balloons with cups of rice for ballast, will be to have the slowest-rising balloon in the race - the last balloon to reach the ceiling will be the winner.

NMSU students and Physical Science Laboratory employees will assist the students with the hands-on activities.

A keynote presentation by representatives of the newly formed Rocket Racing League will be part of the conference's opening activities. All of the conference activities will take place in the Corbett Center Ballrooms.

The students will participate in four separate groups, with the program repeated for each group. Welcome and keynote presentations are scheduled for 9 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. each day. The hands-on activities will take place from 10 a.m. to noon and from 12:30 to 2:20 p.m. each day.

Interested individuals are welcome at any of the presentations or activity sessions, Borchert said. For more information contact Borchert at (505) 522-9600 or mhaaland@psl.nmsu.edu.

The SCE is sponsored jointly by NMSU and NASA's Balloon Program Office, headquartered at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Its mission is to promote science and engineering education and outreach at all levels, from kindergarten through graduate school, with the objective of increasing the number of college graduates with an interest in suborbital programs as a career choice.

NMSU's Physical Science Laboratory is engaged in a wide range of suborbital programs with NASA and other partners. The PSL operates NASA's Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas, launching high-altitude scientific balloons from sites around the world.

More information about the Suborbital Center of Excellence is available on the Web at http://www.psl.nmsu.edu/sce/.

April 27, 2006
Karl Hill