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The Future of HAB–Plus a Classroom Integration Crash Course

Updated: Jun 2, 2023

In a previous blog, we reflected on a Student Project Spotlight in showing the importance of CubeSats as a teaching device for students of all ages. Yet, implementing CubeSats into the classroom is easier said than done, considering the process can be lengthy, costly, and unmanageable for some educators. Although the broad timeline of CubeSat construction can enable students to have meaningful and growth-oriented experiences, achieving the minimum funds needed to execute this project is oftentimes daunting. An alternative to using CubeSats as a hands-on, real-world tool for students to explore their passions is the High Altitude Balloon (HAB), which is just like the name implies. That being said, why should educators, predominantly those teaching middle and lower school students, use these balloons in the classroom, and what are the future implications of HAB-based research? The proof of HAB benefits is truly in the pudding–or in this case, the moon cheese.

Ordinary balloons are typically filled with helium, which enables the rubber or latex to travel upward. HABs aren’t so different, as they contain the same properties but are larger in size and ultimately more multifaceted because of their shape. HABs are constructed to contain research-capable payloads (ex: thermometer, barometer, cameras) before popping and returning to Earth. With the ability to store payloads, these balloons are diverse when it comes to potential research, including temperature, pressure, weather and other atmospheric conditions that otherwise couldn’t be accurately detected in a school setting. Compared to CubeSats, HABs are more cost-efficient, can be produced in shorter times, and don’t contain the competition that students may find in university-oriented programs such as NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative. In the future, we may even see HABs be used in non-classroom environments, including in different army missions, due to their camera-storing capabilities and therefore potential to improve communication. Truly, these balloons are greatly versatile, and can therefore make a difference in any students’ education. See below for a CubeSat and HAB comparison–both contain great feedback benefits as teaching tools!

Not sold by the HAB’s potential yet? The classroom benefits are clear-cut, and can ultimately engage students of all academic disciplines. Not only do HABs give students an opportunity to participate in hands-on learning by the hands-on designing and building process, but students will also see a common connection between their interests and that of their enthusiastic peers, which can form meaningful bonds should future STEM projects be completed. Additionally, participants familiar with anything from coding and programming to aerospace and meteorology will be able to contribute and explore their fascinations with this short-term project, while educators have less of a financial constraint as found with CubeSats. Whether a HAB is produced in an extracurricular club, STEM course, or just between motivated students, a successful launch can mean the construction of future projects that educate both the young scientists and younger students. Don’t be deterred from building CubeSats if you’re prepared for the rigor, however, as both experiences are valuable–and both opportunities may be once in a blue moon for several students.

In this episode of “Let’s Go to Space: BLUESKY Learning,” Episode 78: NearSpace Education: Using HAB in the classroom, we’re joined with Brandon Pearson, NearSpace’s STEM Education Director, high school science teacher, and proponent of using HAB in the classroom. Mr. Pearson comes to us from a familiar background of first teaching biology and then seeing the interdisciplinary nature of aerospace, where he joined an offshoot of NearSpace earlier this year. With a diverse academic background, Mr. Pearson devised a HAB-oriented STEM class for students to construct research projects to then be executed via balloon launch. Additionally, he is working on his Masters in STEM Curriculum and Instruction, while also emphasizing the importance of HAB in classrooms that may not have access to CubeSats, yet house students eager to learn. Mr. Pearson leaves us with a great message of the importance of working towards a goal regardless of age or experience, which greatly parallels our Blue-Sky Learning philosophy. Learn more about Brandon Pearson, or visit our other weekly podcasts to hear from other speakers, by clicking the link above. Also make sure to check out our website to learn more about becoming a member of the Aerospace and Innovation Academy, where you can join us in our quest to go to space.

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