Valley high school reaches for near space

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX -- A Valley high school is taking its freshman physics class to near space.

"They were like, 'Yeah!' I mean, the cheers were incredible. Everyone was fired up. We just all stood there and just watched it until you couldn't see it anymore," said Michael Vargas, a physics teacher at Pinnacle High School.

He wants to show students how physics works firsthand.

"Rather than, 'Hey, get out your textbook and do some worksheets,' we're saying, 'All right, hey, let's go to space,' " Vargas explained.

The near-space pods are armed with GPS, GO PROs and microcomputers which collect data and pictures while hitching a ride on a helium-powered meteorological balloon.

"We're saying, 'OK, now that we taught you all these wonderful math equations, go out and predict: where's it going to land? How high is it going to go? How much time is it going to take to get to altitude until the balloon bursts?' " Vargas said.

They're applying all the basics of physics to a near-space experiment funded by a $4,500 grant by SRP.

The last launch reached 70,000 feet in the air. When it comes back to earth, a search-and-rescue mission will begin. The students will track the pod by GPS and listening for a beacon.

Vargas has sky-high hopes this project will keep the kids coming back for more.

"It's a really cool project, and the kids, I think, get a lot of out it," he said. "They get a chance to really rather than talk about science, touch science, and that's kind of what we're all about here."

The next near-space flight is Dec. 5, when they hope to reach up to 120,000 feet.