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Danger in the Jet Stream

Ideas from Teachers

(Gr. 6-12)
I teach a Space Science class that is designed to be more "hands on" and for students who have had trouble in science classes in the past. One activity which is extremely high energy and successful is to have the students to work in teams building hot air balloons and then track them as they travel around our valley. This activity could be used with NOVA's "Three Men and a Balloon" program.

Each balloon is 12 feet in height and has its own fuel source that enables it to stay aloft for 30-60 minutes. Some of our balloons have gone completely out of sight and we have never located them. The kids love this activity.

Editor's note: To see photos of students doing the project, visit: Choose "Special Class Projects," then "Mr. Mason's Hot Air Balloons" to go to the photos.

Safety Notes
Balloon Size—These balloons are 10-12 feet in height and 5-8 feet in diameter. Their size should be such that they would be visible to low flying aircraft but you can't assume always so I call our local airport before each launch to advise them of the obstacles and they, in turn, put a notice out to all aircraft in the valley. I also do not launch on any day except a completely clear sky day. This is to ensure that the balloons are visible for long distances and enables the students to follow their balloons. On cloudy days the balloons can get lost in the clouds and be a real hazard to aircraft.

Fuel Source—We use rubber cement as the fuel source, which provides a lot of heat for quite awhile. We have had occasions where the tissue paper catches on fire, burns completely up, and the pop can containing the burning rubber cement continues falling. We launch in the winter because of the cold temperatures necessary for lift and it is much safer when everything is covered with snow. I remind the students to always try to launch as far away from houses as possible. They are also encouraged to try to keep up with and stay under their balloons as much as possible in case of "Hindenburg-like" accidents.

Sent in by
Ron Mason
Eastmont High School

(Gr. 11)
This activity could be used with NOVA's "Three Men and a Balloon" program. Have kids think about trying to navigate Mars using a hot air balloon. What gas would be best to use? How much gas will be needed to lift the gondola? How big? What materials would the balloon be made of? What would be the air pressure and temperature considerations for the design?

Sent in by
Mrs. Chu
Silver Creek High School
San Jose, CA

Teacher's Guide
Danger in the Jet Stream