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Loki Lego Launcher in eclipse
The moon’s shadow can be seen in the background of this picture taken by a camera on the Yeung sisters’ Loki Lego Launcher. A picture of the Yeung family’s late cat, Loki, and a Lego minifigure of Amelia Earhart take up the foreground. (Rebecca and Kimberly Yeung Photo)

Not everything turned out the way pre-teen sisters Rebecca and Kimberly Yeung expected when they sent their Loki Lego Launcher balloon platform into the shadow of a solar eclipse. But that in itself was a big lesson for the stratospheric science team from Seattle.

The Yeung family – including 12-year-old Rebecca and 10-year-old Kimberly as well as their parents, Winston and Jennifer Yeung – drove westward from the launch site in Wyoming after Monday’s eclipse and were due back in Seattle late tonight.

“There are many lessons that we learned, and we are continuing to talk about them as we continue our long drive home (our car ride home always seems to be our mission debrief session),” the girls wrote today on their blog.

Monday’s total solar eclipse was a teachable moment for the Yeungs as well as other citizen scientists participating in the Eclipse Ballooning Project.

The objective was to gather observations from the stratosphere as the moon’s shadow passed overhead. It was a perfect opportunity for the Yeungs and their Loki Lego Launcher, which made two previous trips to the stratosphere.

The balloon-borne platform’s name refers to the dearly departed family cat, Loki, as well as the Lego toys that go along for the ride. This time around, the sisters included a minifigure of aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart.

Each launcher mission sends the platform up to stratospheric heights, where cameras get an astronaut’s-eye view of the surroundings (with the Lego toy and a picture of Loki in the foreground).

Monday’s 95-minute mission began with an ascent from Glendo, Wyo., in the path of totality, and made it up to an altitude of 96,371 feet. After the balloon popped, the platform and its payload parachuted to a landing in western Nebraska, 30 miles from the launch site.

Preparing for launch
Rebecca and Kimberly Yeung gather with other members of the Eclipse Ballooning Project team to prepare for Monday’s launch. (Winston Yeung Photo)
Balloon inflation
The balloon is inflated for the Loki Lego Launcher. (Winston Yeung Photo)
Eclipse view
A picture from the Loki Lego Launcher reveals the moon’s shadow during the eclipse. (Rebecca and Kimberly Yeung Photo)
Launcher recovery
Rebecca and Kimberly Yeung were able to recover the Loki Lego Launcher after its landing in Nebraska, thanks to signals transmitted by the payload. (Winston Yeung Photo)

Loki Lego Launcher 3.0 carried a solar-panel experiment as well as cameras and other experiments. The cameras worked long enough to get some spectacular views of the curving Earth with the moon’s shadow in the distance.

“I think this is the best footage of the launches, because of the eclipse,” Kimberly Yeung told GeekWire via cellphone as the family was driving across Montana.

The telemetry shows that the cameras shut themselves down about 35 minutes after liftoff. That could be due to extremely cold temperatures, which dipped as low as minus-81 degrees Fahrenheit at high altitude.

After recovering the payload, the girls found that a wire had slipped loose on the solar panels, dashing their hopes of finding out how the eclipse affected power generation. They also saw some strange spikes in the data for atmospheric pressure, which could be due to instrumentation issues.

“Our overall mission results: partially successful,” the Yeungs reported.

Rebecca Yeung said one of the biggest lessons had to do with the benefits of working with a large scientific team. Even though Loki Lego Launcher 3.0 didn’t fulfill all of its mission objectives, the resulting data contributed to a successful project that involved 60 teams from around the nation.

“I think it made a really big difference,” Rebecca said.

So what’s next for the Loki Lego Launcher? After making three trips to the stratosphere and back, the balloon platform is destined to become part of an exhibit at Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry.

Winston Yeung said museum officials reached out to the girls about putting the launcher on display a few months ago, and the family agreed to let them have it after this one last mission.

Even though the Loki Lego Launcher isn’t equipped to go all the way to outer space, Rebecca Yeung suggested that its inspirational spirit parallels the commercial drive to the final frontier, as exemplified by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture.

“It’s just like Blue Origin,” she said, “because we’re reusing it.”

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