What we do:
We launch high altitude weather balloons in collaboration with schools to teach students physics concepts, experimental research skills, and to make space exploration accessible to students. A weather balloon lifts a specially designed payload package that is composed of HD cameras, GPS tracking devices, and other science equipment. The payload is constructed and attached to the balloon by the students with low-cost materials. The balloon and payload are launched with FAA clearance from a site chosen based on wind patterns and predicted landing locations. The balloon ascends over 2 hours to a maximum altitude of 100,000 feet where it bursts and allows the payload to slowly descend using a built-in parachute. The balloon's location is monitored during its flight by GPS-satellite relay. The payload is located using the GPS device and the HD video and high-resolution still images are recovered from the cameras and shared with the students.
Why we do it:
Ben enjoyed hands-on exploration projects as a student and wanted to provide similar, and bigger and better, experiences for the next generation. Project Aether was started in order to put inspiring videos of the edge of space on YouTube to reach students across the world. It was then expanded to a "Design, Build, Fly" project to involve students in the entire exploration process.
Who we are:
Ben Longmier, Ph.D., founder and director of Project Aether, earned his Ph.D. in plasma physics in 2007 from the University of Wisconsin and has been working with the Ad Astra Rocket Company on the development of their Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR). Ben co-founded the Space Center Lecture Series and runs a space and science demonstration video repository on YouTube. He also enjoys flying general aviation aircraft, SCUBA diving, and playing ice hockey.
Elizabeth Longmier, M.D., Ben's wife and a family physician, helps with student education and launch organization. She is also the official photographer.
Volunteers at the launch and prior to launch day are an integral part of Project Aether. Past volunteers have been class parents, college students, and even rocket scientists from Ad Astra Rocket Company. A special thanks to AIAA-Houston members, ACAE members, and Invenio students and staff.
The most important Project Aether participants, of course, are the high school and college students.
What does Aether mean?:
"Aether, in Greek mythology, is one of the first-born elemental gods. He is the personification of the upper sky, space, and heaven, and is the elemental god of the "Bright, Glowing, Upper Air." He is the pure upper air that the gods breathe, as opposed to the normal air mortals breathe."