To go beyond limits
Grace Melanie I. Lacamiento (The Freeman) - June 20, 2018 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines — Ever dreamed of the Philippines launching its first manned space flight through a balloon? Well, this group of young Filipinos and their mentors share the same mission – aiming to make a breakthrough in space science.

The High-Altitude Balloon Life Support System (HABLSS) Karunungan Flight Team, composed of one college and ten high school student researchers and two instructors, takes a leap to the “near space” for the third time.

St. Cecilia’s College in Minglanilla, Cebu is the first educational institution in the country to launch the high-altitude balloon into the Earth’s stratosphere. Inspired by foreign innovations and science space projects in schools across the globe, the Cebu-based team aims to develop its own high-altitude balloon – this time, with life support system.

The balloon is flown into the Earth’s stratosphere with an altitude of 60,000 to 130,000 feet, where the pressure is harshly beyond normal to the point that an unprotected human being cannot survive. It will stay in flight for three to four hours, enduring the tremendously low temperature and pressure.

Space technology is not low-cost, but luck was on the team’s side as the school and the DOST funded their research.

The team is one of the seven Young Innovators Program recipients of the Department of Science and Technology’s Philippine Council for Industry, Energy, and Emerging Technology Research and Development (DOST-PCIEERD). The ‘first generation’ student researchers include Enrique III Pacudan, 16; John Rollene Pastor, 16; Christian Lawrence Cantos, 16; Justine Nid Daffon, 18; Rhenz Jay Estrera, 18; and Jhy Rosheene Paunel, 18.

Following in their footsteps are the ‘second generation’ students namely Dorothy Mae Daffon, 14; John Harold Abarquez, 15; Earl Bacus, 15; Joefer Emmanuel Capangpangan; 15; and Joshua Pardorla, 20.

They are guided by their hands-on mentors, Wilfredo Pardorla Jr. and Christopher Caballa Jr.

After seven months of research and innovation, the team flew its first high-altitude balloon, which was carrying a mouse in insulation supported with oxygen, on April 22, 2016. Although the mouse did not survive, the team was able to take a video from way up in the sky at night and gather GPS data, temperature and humidity.

Their second attempt was on May 8, 2018. The high-altitude balloon had seven mice on life support system in an enclosure provided with oxygen and carbon dioxide enough to survive in space for four hours and two hours for recovery. Unfortunately, the seven mice died, but the data showed stable internal condition inside the system.

The team was still not contented after the second launch. It was around 2 a.m. of May 12 when the Karunungan team, though sleepless and anxious, sent its third high-altitude balloon to the sky. The high-altitude balloon, which was supposed to carry live mice but was replaced with those made of cotton per the veterinarian’s advice, reached the stratosphere as expected and landed in Guihulngan, Negros Oriental after three to four hours.

Pardorla said it was the most successful among the three launches of the team. It was the first time the balloon landed on the ground since the two launches landed on the water. They found out that the payload was airtight after the launch and the condition inside the life support system remained stable.

The Karunungan team continues to have high hopes for their project. While it is not yet certain when the fourth launch will be, they are sure they will soon take off on a high-altitude balloon with a life support system that the Philippines and even the world will be proud of.

The student researchers of St. Cecilia’s Cebu are determined to reach for the sky. Aiming for that “eureka” moment, these young Cebuano geeks look forward to launching their own manned space flight one day and soar towards their dreams, to who knows where.


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