A GoPro camera view from the Excel Public Charter School’s weather balloon at 112,000 feet above the Earth on Tuesday. COURTESY PHOTO

Out of this world: School project makes orbit | VIDEO

It was bold, exciting and new.

Teachers and students at Excel Public Charter School in Kent reached for the skies, launching a large, helium-filled weather balloon from a grassy knoll on a blustery Tuesday. It was all part of the school’s Computational Thinking Day Open House, one of many projects staff and students have been working on.

Ryelee Patten, an eighth-grader, won a raffle to release the 6-foot-circumference balloon in front of his classmates. The launch went well, and so did the brief flight.

The balloon soared, reaching an altitude of 112,000 feet – more than 21 miles – above the Earth. The orbit-visiting balloon expanded, popped and parachuted safely back to Earth – an adventuresome ride in which it landed on a farm just off Interstate 90 in Ellensburg.

The balloon carried a container equipped with a GPS tracker, radio transmitter, camera and tools necessary to measure pressure, altitude and “real world data that kids can connect to” in their (science and math) classes,” said Eli Sheldon, the school’s Computational Thinking program manager.

The mission was enlightening, rewarding.

“The balloon performed admirably,” Sheldon said. “We were incredibly lucky that it just barely made it past the mountains. We actually lost it for eight minutes mid-descent and had almost given up hope when it pinged again with its location, which was thrilling. Everything landed intact.”

Sheldon hopes to soon share the video of the voyage for all to see.

Many volunteers made the project possible. Rich Hargett at Northwest Welding and Gases generously donated the helium.

The weather balloon was among the showcased projects at the open house.

Activities included: robotic arms, combining design and iteration with biology and physics to move objects that are out of reach; a chocolate factory that used decomposition and design to create a better workplace for Oompa Loompas, who are fictional characters from Roald Dahl’s books “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator”; and a zombie escape that used algorithmic thinking, abstraction, pattern recognition and teamwork to survive a deadly zombie virus.

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Ryelee Patten, an eighth-grader at the school, joins Eli Sheldon, the school’s Computational Thinking program manager, and volunteer Chrissie Grover-Roybal to release the weather balloon earlier Tuesday. MARK KLAAS, Kent Reporter

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