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Helping NASA

North Medford High School's high-altitude balloon team launched two balloons to assist NASA in capturing photos and video of the solar eclipse today, with both payloads ascending to more than 100,000 feet while cameras rolled, streamed and clicked.

The 10-student team launched both balloons from Dayville, which is along Highway 26 east of Prineville and was in the eclipse's path of totality. "Tornado Payload," which contained video and still cameras, was skybound at 9:05 a.m., according to a news release. "NASA Payload," which contained NASA equipment to livestream the event, went up 10 minutes later.

The project, which the students have been working on for the past two years, was part of a massive undertaking by NASA and Montana State University. The Eclipse Ballooning Project combined the efforts of about 55 teams across the U.S., all sending up balloons from different points along the path of totality, a narrow band stretching from Oregon to South Carolina. 

"Video and images of a total eclipse from near space are fascinating and rare. It’s never been done live, and certainly not in a network of coverage across a continent," the project website reads.

The streaming feed transmitting from NASA Payload went well at first, but when it reached about 100,000 feet, it ran into some trouble because of issues with the automated tracking system, Medford School District communications specialist Natalie Hurd said. The balloon also burst prematurely during totality, though the streaming signal returned as the payload fell back to Earth. 

"We've always been slow rising, so we wanted to be high during totality, and we just overcompensated," North Medford astronomy teacher and planetarium director Robert Black said in the release. "Spirits are still pretty high."

The team has since recovered one of the balloons, which was found about 20 miles away from the launch site. At 3:30 p.m. today, they were still looking for the second one.

— Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.

North Medford High School students recover one of their high altitude balloons launched from Dayville to document the solar eclipse Monday.