Maine Students Hoping To Launch Their Science Careers In Farmington 

A group of Maine high school students have been working together with college students from all over Maine on a first-of-its-kind science experiment. Wednesday, they were hoping to reach new heights… It’s the culmination of more than a year of work and a $375,000 grant from NASA. Dr. Terry Shehata, Executive Director of the Maine Space Grant Consortium, has overseen the project since the beginning. “It’s like a small space program but on a low budget,” he said Wednesday.Students from Mt. Blue, Westbrook, and Winthrop High Schools, along with staff from the Maine Space Grant Consortium, and students from the University of Maine, USM, and Maine Maritime Academy all gathered at Prescott Field in Farmington to launch giant scientific balloons. It’s all part of an experiment to see how different living organisms react to high altitudes. “Because this is all about astrobiology which is life in an extreme environment,” Dr. Shehata said, “so we make it simple for high school students.”Attached to the balloons are boxes called payloads containing test organisms. Students and teachers decide what they’re sending up. Krissy Doughty, a sophomore at Winthrop, has been part of the team from her school working on this project from the start. “We decided, my group, to send up sea monkeys,” she said. “When we get our balloon back from the chase and recovery we’re going to test and see if they grow the same way. Some other classes sent up fruit and bacteria, so it’s going to be really interesting.”Also going along for the ride are cameras to help document the trip. “We also have a regular camera that takes pictures every 30 seconds and we have a GoPro to take a continuous feed to give us video when it gets above the clouds,” explains Michael Ostromacky, a mechanical engineering student at the University of Maine. He says he’s excited to work with the younger students and help to raise their interests in science. “Myself in high school we never did anything this cool. I’m really glad to see that education is stepping up to get kids interested in math and science.” Each balloon is equipped with its own GPS tracking device. After they launch students will track their locations. The three balloons launched Wednesday, are projected to land in a few hours, somewhere east of Orono around 90 miles away from Farmington.Students riding in chase vehicles track the balloons’ location on laptops and smart phones and see exactly where they land. “They’ll collect those payloads and bring them back to their high schools, do the analysis and report it out,” Dr. Shehata explains.Dr. Shehata he’s hoping to do similar projects with younger students. If Wednesday is any indication, he won’t have to look far to find willing participants.