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Metropolitan Juniors Headed For Space

The Metro Academy Weather Balloon Brigade: Melanie Jimenez, Julia Alvarez, Cynthia Sanchez, Richard Cabrera, chemistry teacher Tyler Peterhansel, Kameron Dorsey, Jhenzen Gonzales, and Deja Telaford.

The idea came from watching a YouTube video: The juniors at Metropolitan Business Academy thought they could learn much more about gas laws by building and launching a weather balloon.

Now that’s what they’re planning to do just as soon as they raise $500. The students, who take chemistry with fifth-year Metro teacher Tyler Peterhansel, have been working diligently for about a month to raise money so they can test out what they’ve been learning as a real-world concept for their final project of the year.

Once they raise the money, they plan to purchase a weather balloon kit, build it and launch it into space. The balloon is designed to withstand high-altitudes and can carry tools that measure things like atmospheric pressure and temperature. Their goal is to get all that done in the next few weeks.

Peterhansel said much of what the students have learned about gasses happen during the flight of the balloon, and launching it as a team is a unique experience that you can’t get on your computer or at home. You need a big group of people, like a chemistry class of junior students, to do all that needs to be done.

“They’re doing two things at once: they’re modeling how the balloon works in class and a smaller group is working after school to actually get a balloon launched into space,” he said. He got the idea for building and launching the balloon by watching YouTube videos (click below for a sample) and once the students saw it, they were sold.

“It’s not every day you get to say, ‘I launched a balloon up into space to take pictures and come back down,’” 16-year-old Deja Telford said. “We don’t even know where it’s going to land.”

“The videos he showed us and the possibility of it going all the way up and coming down were pretty cool,” Richard Cabrera, 16, added. “I guess that’s what caught our eye.”

Fundraising isn’t the only job the students have to do. Cynthia Sanchez, 16, said there is a student in charge of calculating the distance every day and checking the weather to see which day is the perfect day to launch.

“There is someone to make sure that the amount of helium we’re putting into the balloon is enough so that it doesn’t land in the ocean, or doesn’t land in a place where we can’t retrieve it,” she said.

The payload of the balloon is a small rectangular box that weighs less than 800 grams, while the balloon is about 350 grams, according to Melanie Jimenez, 16. There also will be a camera on the payload that will allow them to truly see what the air is like up there, and a GPS tracker to help them locate the balloon after it eventually pops and falls back to earth. It will have also have reflectors on it to make sure it can be seen as it moves through the atmosphere by pilots.

Everyone has their fingers crossed that the balloon lands somewhere close by. “We’re praying it’s not the ocean,” Cynthia said.

The students have worked on the project for about a month and are getting closer to meeting their $500 fundraising goal. Two fundraisers last week got them nearly to the halfway mark.

“This is a great project and I love it,” Cynthia, who wants to study biology, said. Their teacher is pretty fond of it too.

“It provides an experience,” Peterhansel said. “I think when kids come to school they come for an experience they can’t get on the computer, that they can’t get at home. And doing something like launching a weather balloon is something that you can only do at school with a big group of people and that’s what’s so great about our public schools in New Haven."

“They provide opportunities every day,” he added. “You know, you board that yellow bus and every day you have the opportunity to do something cool. Whether it’s launching a weather balloon to outer space or any other sort of thing that applies to your classes.”

Want to help the Metro Academy juniors with their fundraising goal? Contact Tyler Peterhansel at

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