Before August's solar eclipse hit Oregon, it was visible over the Pacific Ocean. Leif Eccles, a professor at Oregon Institute of Technology's Wilsonville campus, witnessed the eclipse's shadow via video camera as it was just beginning to make its way onto land.
"I could actually see the shadow as it was coming across the ocean," said Eccles, who is an advisor for Oregon Tech's Gravity and Space (GRASP) Club. "We were watching, on the laptop, the shadow coming across the ocean before we experienced totality. I can't even describe how amazing that was."
Eccles was able to witness that thanks to GRASP's participation in the Eclipse Ballooning Project, a NASA-led effort that tracked the eclipse's shadow using high-altitude balloons and camera equipment. More than 50 groups participated in the countrywide project.
Before the Aug. 21 eclipse date, GRASP conducted many tethered balloon launch tests, including one at Tualatin High School in conjunction with the school's Girls Who Code club.
"My team came a couple times to introduce them to the project and show them what our equipment was, and how to use everything," Eccles said. "The Girls Who Code team created a video presentation about the eclipse, and then they helped promote the project when we went out to the field."
Elaine Meslow, now a senior at Tualatin High, spoke to the Times last May.
"It's just kind of amazing that it's so close to us, and it's such a rare experience," she said.
Eccles said that although the original plan was to include the Tualatin students in the actual eclipse launch, GRASP had difficulty finding students to attend. For the Oregon Tech students, however, it turned out to be a valuable learning experience.
"This is one of those quintessential projects that was the perfect learning experience for future engineers," Eccles said. "We were given bare-bones equipment, the cheapest stuff that could get the job done. And we worked with the stuff, and found ways to improve what we were given…. Every aspect of this project was able to give them hands-on experience of something they had learned in the classroom."
The eclipse launch turned out to be more successful than any tethered test launch GRASP conducted, Eccles said. And because the group launched from the Oregon State University campus in Corvallis, they were able to collaborate with students from Portland State University, who even gave GRASP an extra balloon at the last minute.
"We had increased our weight to include both a still-image camera and a video camera," Eccles said. "The one thing we hadn't anticipated with that additional weight was that we would need a bigger balloon ... we were halfway back to Wilsonville when the PSU team gave us a balloon instead. That was really generous of them to do that."
Although Tualatin High students didn't participate in the Eclipse Ballooning Project as much as Eccles had hoped, there is a good possibility that the two schools will collaborate again in the near future. Eccles said that two upcoming NASA-related projects this school year may spark Tualatin High students' interest.
"This is the start of building a relationship with Tualatin High," Eccles said. "They're so close (to Oregon Tech in Wilsonville), and these are NASA projects. I'm going to continue to go over there and continue trying to get them to be involved."