PSU students working with NASA on eclipse viewing project


Portland State University students are partnering with NASA on a special project to capture the solar eclipse at views three times higher than jets fly, and the public will be able to go along for the ride.

Mechanical engineering professor Mark Weislowgel and a team of students are partnering with NASA and other universities on the project, which will have the students launching four massive balloons during the eclipse.

“We want to see the shadow, we want to see the whole event and then, we want to stitch them together to create these massive images,” PSU student Rihana Mungin explained. “You’re not going to see that shadow of the moon crossing the Earth. You just won’t see it unless you’re high up in the air.”

The balloons will carry cameras and other equipment to collect data, which will be sent back to a ground station and streamed live online for anyone to see.

The plans are for the balloons to provide images from a height greater than 120,000 feet.

“That’s like 25 miles in the air, and they call it near-space ballooning because you’re reaching, just almost, to the edge of space,” Mungin said.

The team is hoping to launch out of Corvallis, but only if Mother Nature cooperates. At the height they are trying to reach, the conditions are harsh.

“Minus 40 degrees, very low pressure. They get one shot so it’s got to work.” Weislowgel explained. “We talk about balloons floating, but winds aloft are traveling about 100 miles an hour, so we’ve got to get this right.”

There is a lot of pressure on the students, but they also believe this project will generate a lifetime of memories.

“It’s really helping people get excited about science and technology,” Mungin said.

“To get something back that you expect to see that’s rare and beautiful, what a delight,” Weislowgel added.

The other schools participating across the country hope to also launch balloons and stream their views online. The feeds will be available at Eclipse.Stream.Live.

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