HAB-1: Chase and Recovery

By Anthony Romaniello · December 8, 2014

Immediately after the launch, we began our drive back to Atlanta. The whole team met at OK Cafe and enjoyed a celebratory breakfast before beginning the balloon chase. After breakfast, we departed for the projected landing site near Greenville, SC. Josh, Bo, Nick, Davis, Mr. Hwang, and myself set off chasing the balloon.

Balloon Predictions

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The Chase

On our way to Greenville, the SPOT GPS stopped transmitting new data points. The last point, received at 10:52 AM, showed the balloon to be just outside of Greenville. We drove to the location the GPS had last transmitted, only to find nothing. Together, we came to the conclusion that it must not have landed yet; rather, it was out of GPS range. The balloon was just reaching peak altitude. Having realized that it was still headed northeast, we got back on I-85 and hoped the balloon’s GPS would transmit another point soon.

Nearly two hours after the last data point from the GPS, we received another point. At 12:47 PM, the GPS showed the balloon to be east of Charlotte, NC. As excited as we were, we knew this was a much longer drive than we had planned. So we continued on to Charlotte. From this point onward, we received regular GPS contact, approximately every 10 minutes.

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While we were still a little ways from Charlotte, we notice a trend in the GPS points. They have been very close to each other in the last few updates. In the end, there were three points that were so close together, we were able to conclude that the balloon had landed. And it landed about an hour and a half east of Charlotte - a lot more driving than we had anticipated.

After stopping for a late lunch at Subway, and getting caught in traffic for quite a while, we were finally on our way once again. Eventually, we arrived at the landing location just after sunset. The area was mostly a large field, home to a trailer park. We first talked to some of the area’s residents, to let them know why we were there, and to assuage any potential concerns they might have had. Then we set out with flashlights to find our balloon. After only about a minute or so of searching among some thick brush, we saw the flashlight’s beam hit the radar reflector of the balloon. After about a 13 hour day, we had found the balloon. We ran to the balloon in excitement, and grabbed everything as fast as we could. The first thing we did once we got back to the car was plug in the GoPro.

Opening the videos for the first time was truly humbling. The footage was incredible. Over two hours of video, starting at launch, and ending mid-flight (due to the batteries dying - this was expected). Watching the balloon soar above the earth, we knew that this was our creation. We built this, and put it in near space!

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One of the residents of the trailer park, Montgomery County Deputy Jon Garner, was very helpful to us in our search. He answered our questions and was interested in what we were doing. He even pulled around his police car and turned on his spotlights for a picture!

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We then faced the reality that we had about a five hour drive back to Atlanta. We thanked Deputy Garner and started our journey home. Finally, we arrived at about 11:50 PM, ending our journey. The trip, while long, was absolutely worth it. 5:45 AM to Midnight. What a day.

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