Museum takes first place in space balloon contest

Photo of Matagorda Bay taken from the balloon at the peak altitude of 112,000 feet

The last time the Museum of the Coastal Bend went to the edge of space, it won an international competition. This time, the museum has its sights set just as high.

Earlier this year, the museum won first place in the Global Space Balloon Challenge: Most Educational Initiatives category for the space balloon project that museum curators Eric Ray and Isabel Van Dyke created and organized.

The Global Space Balloon Challenge (GSBC) 2015 involved 125 teams flying from 27 countries.

Museum staff worked with Piñon Elementary, a school in Los Alamos, New Mexico, to send student-designed experiments up with the balloon. Back on the ground, Eric Ray, the museum’s curator of exhibits and collections, managed the logistics of the flight itself. He communicated with airports and ham radio operators to build a trackable balloon that would fly safely between Cuero and Victoria.

“The balloon made it to just over 112,000 feet, and we were able to recover the cameras and student experiments,” said Ray. “It was just a huge success.”

In addition to the student experiments, the balloon carried a video camera to capture the flight, along with multiple ways of tracking its location, height and temperature.

“It was very exciting, watching the tracking system send us information and posting photos and altitude updates on social media so that the community could be part of the experience,” said Isabel Van Dyke, the museum’s curator of education and public programs. “The GSBC appreciated that our balloon engaged both students and the public in a variety of formats.”

The prize was appropriate: more balloon supplies.

Using the new balloon supplies, the museum has partnered with the Boys and Girls Club of Victoria for a launch targeted at August 12. Some of the summer camp students are working to create experiments to answer questions about what the edge of space is like.

“We want to try and get some different pictures of our beautiful region. You can see the curve of the Earth and the blackness of space. We also want to give another group of kids the chance to answer their own questions about space,” explained Ray.

The public can follow the launch and flight on the museum’s Facebook and Twitter accounts listed at

The balloon launch was a part of the museum’s special temporary exhibit, “Above Texas Skies: Space Exploration in the Coastal Bend,” which highlights the many contributions that people in the region have made to our understanding of space. The exhibit is open through August and admission is pay-what-you-want.

Photo of Corpus Christi and the border taken from balloon at the peak altitude of 112,000 feet

Photo of Victoria taken from the balloon from 72,000 feet twice as high as a commercial flight
Published: Wednesday, 05 August 2015

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