WestSide Stories: Utah students and staff launch LEGO astronaut to the edge of the atmosphere

Local News

TREMONTON, Utah (ABC4) – A nearly two-year project created by Granite School District STEM students and staff took flight for the first time.

Neil Armstrong Academy students, parents, and staff launched a LEGO astronaut 90,000 feet – to the edge of earth’s atmosphere Friday afternoon – with a high-altitude balloon and GOPROS and GPS tracking attached.

Before launch day, multiple test operations had to be completed.

“We have an online website that we use where you plug in the assent of the balloon, its anticipated burst altitude and the latitude and longitude of where you’re launching it, and it actually calculates based on that,” says Principal John Paul Sorensen. “There’s a pretty large margin for error there, and so you run many cycles and predictions, and we’ve been running several a day.”

From its launchpad in Tremonton, predictions suggested it would land in Mantua.

“I was very nervous right before because the most dangerous part of a launch like this is the first 10 feet,” Sorensen says.

The launch was successful, and everyone who watched this project come to life cheered as it made its way high into the sky.

“It was really cool to shout the numbers 10, 9, 8. Umm, yeah, it was really fun,” says Joseph Pendleton, a third grader at the academy.

“It feels really good to finally see all this progress and that it succeeded and it’s just very special,” says Grace Foster, a fifth grader at the school and member of the project’s elite launch team.

Neil Armstrong Academy is located in West Valley City. Sorensen says the launch site in Tremonton had been chosen for air traffic safety.

“You can’t launch a balloon like this out of West Valley because we’re too close to the airports. There’s a lot of air traffic,” he says. “As you travel a little bit further north, you run into Hill Air Force Base restricted zones and if you go out west, then you’re going to controlled Military air space. Just for safety’s sake, to make sure we’re not in any air traffic control issues, you either go way far north or way far south. And we chose way far north.”

Almost an hour and 45-minute drive from the school to the launch site, Pendleton says it’s worth it as he watches it with his family.

“It’s really cool because I live 100 miles away from here but it’s still totally worth it to come here,” he says.

Cameras live streaming on the LEGO astronaut dropped out after 20,000 feet, but GPS tracking remained strong. The project safely landed in the mountains of Mantua about three and a half hours after takeoff.

Students did not go with Sorensen to recover it, but were able to follow along on their Facebook Livestream.

Seeing the project from the end to the beginning, Foster is proud of what she and her classmates accomplished.

“It just feels like all that progress was very nice and all those times getting called down to help getting meetings and help accomplish what we’ve done today,” she says.

The project has been considered a success. Now, students and staff are looking forward to another one next year.

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