Epilogue of the eclipse

By James Favot, News Editor

Jan Carlson
The THS Tech Team launches their balloon on eclipse day.

For over a year, Tigard High’s Technology Team had been working with NASA on an enormous project. They were preparing for eclipse day, when they would launch a balloon to record the beautiful overlap of the moon and sun. For the thousands of residents or visitors in Oregon, this natural phenomenon was a breathtaking sight. But for the tech team, it was a spectacular opportunity to accomplish something they had never even experienced before.

Fourteen months ago, Montana Space Grant Director Angela des Jardins chose Tigard’s Tech Team to participate in NASA’s Eclipse Ballooning Project. The objective was to send large weather balloons into high altitude. The balloons would be attached to equipment that could record footage of the eclipse and send it back to NASA’s website to be streamed online – a task much easier said than done. 72 teams were selected, and only eight of them were from high schools.

Tech Team coach Steve Fulton knew he had a lot of responsibility in his hands. He and a team of four students, nicknamed “The Flying Tigers”, traveled to Bozeman, MT, for a week-long workshop held by Montana State University. These four students formed the nucleus around which the rest of the team was built. The team learned how to build their first camera payloads and tethering devices, the equipment that would be used to launch the balloon and film the eclipse. After weeks of testing and practice sessions, everything was packed up and the Flying Tigers drove to Culver High School in central Oregon to set up for launch on eclipse day.

The team tested, redesigned, repaired, and tested some more. There were many complications along the way, but the long-anticipated Monday finally came around. The Flying Tigers were set to launch alongside teams from Culver High School and Central Washington University.

Culver’s team was set back during launch when their balloon accidentally flew off without the payload, but Tigard’s team was able to get them back on track with some quick thinking and a spare balloon. Chris Mooney was one of the team’s coaches. “They were very helpful with the other team,” Mooney said. “You could tell they had been practicing a lot, because they jumped right up and filled that second balloon.” Thanks to the help of the Flying Tigers, Culver’s team managed to get some eclipse footage.

Unfortunately, the Flying Tigers had their own sudden mishap at the worst moment. They had had a successful launch, but the balloon started going faster and faster. Senior Ethan Gazin said, “It was overfilled, which caused it to rise too fast. It was supposed to be traveling at five meters per second, but it was going at 12 meters per second.” The balloon reached an altitude of 73,000 feet before it burst, 20 minutes too early and too low to catch the eclipse’s approach.

Although the Flying Tigers could not get footage of the eclipse, their journey was not in vain. The cameras on the payload still streamed to NASA’s site, which meant that everything else had been a success, and the Tech Team learned a lot from the experience. Senior Jan Carlson and junior Tyler Walker comprised the Flying Tigers’ marketing team. “We would definitely do it again in a heartbeat,” Walker said. They both agreed that given the opportunity, they would love to give the project a second try with the knowledge they now had.

Now that the school year is in session, the Tech Team is returning to their normal robotics, game design, and programming divisions. Fulton and his crew of students have lofty aspirations for their placement in this year’s championships. But the ballooning project will last as a great summer memory for years to come.


The THS Tech Team gives another special thanks to all the sponsors who helped make this project possible through their generous support:

U.S. Department of Education

Portland Area Career Technical Education Consortium (PACTEC)

Oregon Department of Education

Mentor Graphics Foundation

Western Precision Products

Landmark Ford

Tigard-Tualatin School District STEM ASA

BKB Associates


Launch Team:

Alumni 2017 – Gracie Harestad, Jeremy Stephens, Emma Barbee, Genevieve Connolly

Seniors – Katrina Yang

Juniors – Ethan Vo

Chase Team:

Alumni 2017 – Emma Blodgett, Leon Nguyen, Austin McKee

Seniors – Ethan Gazin

Juniors – Derian Rambo

Tracking Team:

Juniors – Derek Williams, James Shea

Media Team:

Seniors – Jan Carlson

Juniors – Tyler Walker

Coaching Staff:

Steve Fulton

Denny Cole

Chris Mooney

Reza Fouladian

Phil Doberenz

Mark Hancock