'Open House' Balloon Recovered in New Jersey State Park

Published 12.12.1999


What goes up must come down, even after a journey of 19 months and 130 miles.

A high-altitude balloon prepared by students and launched during Pennsylvania College of Technology's Open House in March 1998, has been recovered at Jenny Jump State Forest in Hope, N.J.

According to Dr. Stanley K. Baczek, assistant professor of plastics technology, Ranger Rob Anney of the New Jersey State Park Service notified the College in late October that the balloon was retrieved after hikers reported a "large plastic object" stuck about 30 feet up a tree.

"We were hoping that the balloon would have been discovered a short while after our launch," said Jana Lamberson, of Dover, who served as manager for the Open House balloon project. "Through our calculations, it would have taken the balloon only four hours to reach the Atlantic Coast. I had lost hope for (its) recovery after a few weeks.

"When the call was received that the balloon, in fact, had been found, I was ecstatic," she said. "It felt like our mission had been completed. All of my expectations had been met."

The balloon had its origins in the Industrial Project Management class for Plastics and Polymer Technology students, where Lamberson recruited colleagues Todd M. Brouse, Selinsgrove, and Philip P. Swanson, Milton, for the mission.

"We were expected to make all of our own materials, using knowledge gained through our experience at Penn College," Lamberson said. "The plastic used for the balloon was made in the plastics lab here at the College. On our own time, the three of us cut out the balloon gores and sealed them, forming our balloon."

Dr. Eric K. Albert, dean of the School of Industrial and Engineering Technologies, designed a small video camera that was attached in hopes of getting some footage of the College as the balloon rose. The camera was able to briefly send an image to a recorder on the ground, but the day's windy conditions made for poor transmission.

A payload also was included, containing a letter of explanation and the offer of prizes to whoever discovered the balloon. (The ranger, however, said he was unable to accept any reward for his find.)

Dr. Baczek said the camera was found intact, and was returned by mail this week. He said Dr. Albert tested it, and the lens and electronics still are operational. The camera may be reused if the experiment is duplicated this year.

The actual balloon has not yet been returned.

The 2,400-acre park, noted for its panoramic vistas, rocky outcroppings and boulder-lined hiking trails, is approximately 30 miles east of the Delaware Water Gap along Interstate 80.