On Wednesday 5th July, 13 pupils from St. Paul’s Catholic Primary School embarked on a school trip like no other. Armed with a teddy bear, a series of incredibly small computers (called Raspberry Pis) and a high density high altitude balloon, the intrepid crew set off in the early hours of the morning to a field in Elsworth, Cambridge. Their mission was simple, to launch the school teddy bear (‘Justin Bee-Bear’) into space, which would send back live flight images and photographs of its stratospheric voyage! This extraordinary project was part of the school’s ongoing celebrations to mark the 130th anniversary of their opening and it certainly did not fail to disappoint.
Once the children arrived in Elsworth, they set up camp in a discreet farmer’s field where they began to set up the balloon launch. With Justin Bee-Bear attached, and vast quantities of helium inserted into the balloon, the children were ready for the launch!
At 11.30am, an excitable countdown ensued before the balloon was released. An audible sigh of wonder and awe could be heard as the balloon (with teddy attached) shot up into the air – at a speed of around 6 metres per second. The excited group watched as the balloon began to get smaller and smaller as it travelled upwards – thankfully a perfect summer’s cloudless sky meant that the balloon could be observed until it finally disappeared from view.
Every few seconds, the small computer was capturing images (both video and still) of Justin’s rise through the atmosphere, whereupon it entered the stratosphere. The images that were beamed back down to earth were simply out of this world (excuse the pun). The children and adults alike gasped in awe as some of the images showed the curvature of Planet Earth in the background. Our brave bear travelled a total of 36438 meters into the air (nearly 23 miles).
At this point, the balloon itself expanded to around 8 metres in diameter due to the pressure – before bursting and falling back at an alarming speed of 60 meters per second (nearly 135 miles an hour) back to Earth. This is when the adventure really kicked into gear as the ‘Chase Team’ revved the engines, followed the tracking system that showed the trajectory of Justin’s fall and drove into Sussex hoping to meet the bear as it landed. And they were not far off!
At around 3pm, the chase team located the bear in a wheat field in Stowbridge. The bear was in remarkably good condition considering his intergalactic adventure! He was still in one piece and, most importantly of all, was still smiling! The children, staff and Justin Bee-Bear himself, had an amazing time taking part in an adventure that was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Justin is now sitting proudly on display in the school – a hero of his time in an adventure that will never be forgotten by the children at the school.