Ready to Launch

Members of the Space Explorations Team at Linn-Benton Community College, including Oregon State University students, release a high-altitude balloon in a practice run for the solar eclipse on August 21. (Photo: Chris Becerra)

By Lori Fluge-Brunker, Linn-Benton Community College Advancement Office

In a small work room about the size of a walk-in closet at Linn-Benton Community College, Levi Willmeth and Delphine LeBrun Colon fire up their laptop. Electrical wires, test equipment, homemade components and spare parts cover the work benches. There’s little room for error. The device they are building is going for a ride to the top of the atmosphere, almost 20 miles above the Earth.

Their endeavors will pay off on August 21. Willmeth, Colon and a team of Linn-Benton and Oregon State University students will launch a high-altitude balloon from an OSU research vessel, the Pacific Storm, about 30 miles off the coast to view the first solar eclipse to run from the Pacific to Atlantic since 1918.

“Our goal is to be right on the coastline to get video of the shadow on the water and as it first touches down on land. It’s pretty exciting,” says Willmeth, who graduated from LBCC in computer science. He is now an undergraduate in the College of Engineering at Oregon State and a software developer in OSU’s Open Source Lab.

Colon will enroll this fall in mechanical engineering at OSU and minor in aerospace engineering.

Students track the balloon’s ascent with a receiver on there ground. (Photo: Chris Becerra)

In addition to their work on the eclipse project, both Willmeth and Colon have secured NASA internships this summer. Willmeth will spend 10 weeks in Fairmont, West Virginia, where he’ll test software for drones and satellites. Colon will be stationed at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, working on the space launch system RS-25 engine, which is designed for sending astronauts on missions beyond Earth’s orbit.

Students at all 17 of Oregon’s community colleges and three in Hawaii can participate in research through Oregon State’s Degree Partnership Program.

“Both Levi and Delphine have been key leaders for the past three years in our Space Exploration Team,” says Parker Swanson, LBCC computer science instructor. “As the team’s adviser, I will miss them during their 10-week internships.”

Learn more about the Total Eclipse Experience at OSU. See updates, photos and video from the balloon on the club’s website. You can also listen to “There Goes the Sun,” a May 8 presentation about the upcoming eclipse by Randall Milstein, astronomer in residence with NASA Space Grant at Oregon State University.