Students Observe Florida From 100,000 Feet

TAMPA, Fla. (Dec. 2, 2008) – A sophisticated high-altitude weather balloon named ‘X2-Obara,’ decked out with a battery of scientific instruments and high-resolution cameras, was built and successfully launched last week from the University of South Florida Tampa campus by students from the student-run ‘X-Labs.’ X2-Obara found a soft landing several hours later near Melbourne, Florida and yielded valuable high altitude data and 1000 “stunning” digital photos of Florida from 100,000 feet.


According to Ralph Fehr, USF College of Engineering faculty advisor to the student X-Labs, the X2-Obara, named for the late John Obara, a USF electrical engineering instructor killed in a 2007 motorcycle crash, carried GPS tracking gear in addition to other instrumentation and cameras.


“The X-Labs student organization has over 30 students, most majoring in engineering or science at USF,” explained Fehr. “However, the youngest X-Labs member is Coyt Barringer, a 14 year-old at Tampa Catholic High School. Coyt built several key payload components.”


Barringer, who said he appreciated the opportunity to participate in the balloon launch, called it “a great adventure,” and added, “I’ve really learned a lot from the X-Labs experience.”


Joe Register, X-Labs president, said that the success of the X2-Obara’s exploration of the upper atmosphere with sophisticated electronics put USF student research and education into ‘a new league.’


X-Labs members and Fehr agreed that the balloon named for Obara aptly fit its namesake.


“John motivated and inspired his students and allowed them to have fun while they learned,” said Fehr. “That was John’s style and I know he would applaud the X-Labs members’ accomplishment.”


While the X2-Obara launch and mission went A-OK, the splashdown and recovery was not without some intrigue. After cruising at an altitude of 19 miles, upon splash down in the Atlantic Ocean the X2-Obara’s locating instruments failed. Eventually it washed ashore where it was discovered on the beach by Diane Fluharty of Sebastian, Florida, a USF mom who was walking on the beach 10 miles south of the calculated landing site.


“It is a little ironic,” said Fluharty. “When I found it I was even wearing my USF Bulls t–shirt.”


As per the instructions on the equipment, Fluharty telephoned the team and the recovery was successful.


“The photos offer a rare glimpse of Florida from 100,000 feet,” said Register. “They indicate just how fragile the planet and Florida are.” Fehr added, “I am very proud of the students and their great success. John Obara would be proud as well. They did a great job.”


The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of 39 community-engage, four-year public universities as designated by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. USF was awarded more than $360 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2007/2008. The university offers 219 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The university has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 46,000 students on campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.

– USF –