NASA launching balloons over St. Louis to test atmosphere

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ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) - Over the next two months you'll see a lot of balloons launching in Forest Park. St. Louis University is teaming up with NASA  to learn more about the air we breathe.

"I grew up next to a power plant in Louisville Kentucky.  Living in the Ohio Valley is really bad and I grew up with asthma.  Everyone had asthma.  So to actually be able to do something about it is great." said St. Louis University Ph.D. student Joseph Wilkins.

Wilkins was one of a handful of St. Louis University and Valparaiso students working together to study the atmosphere and St. Louis' location at the center of the U.S.

"Sometimes the pollution can come from the West, sometimes the Ohio River Valley, Chicago and industrial centers East of us.  So the balloons are going to help us track the pollution and understand it's sources." said Valparaiso Professor Gary Morris, Ph.D.

The Science Center was the site of Thursday's test flight. St. Louis University is working with NASA to send weather balloons into thin air to gather information about ozone levels. Everyday balloons will lift off through mid September. The launches coincide with satellite overpasses to measure air quality.

"The balloons ascend to 100,000 feet and when they pop there's a parachute that inflates and brings them back to Earth." said Gary Morris Ph.D.

But, the project almost didn't get off the ground due to a helium shortage.

"That was one of the big no-go decisions possibly, can we get hold of the helium.  I know at St. Louis University we're having trouble getting helium for launches." said SLU Professor Jack Fishman, Ph.D.

With help from NASA, Thursday's launch was a success.

What goes up must come down. so, if a white Styrofoam cooler drops into your driveway, call the number and SLU will pay you $30 to get their instruments back.

Learn more about NASA's study:  SEACIONS: SouthEast American Consortium for Intensive Ozonesonde Network Study

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