Appeasing My Empirical Interests Resulted in Serendipity

Weather_Balloon

When I was in high school, I spent some of my weekends appeasing my empirical interests by undertaking thought-provoking science experiments. Included in the research; I tied a small lightweight cardboard box filled with scientific instruments for measuring ambient temperature, pressure, humidity, and other atmospheric properties to the bottom of several small balloons filled with helium gas.

Walking out into an empty church parking lot, near my home, I carefully released the balloons and cardboard box. I knew that animals may mistake balloon debris for food, ingesting the material, blocking their stomach or intestines leading to starvation. Therefore, I kept the balloons tethered to a very long line and not floating free. After sufficient time for the instruments to gather the information, I retrieved the balloons and cardboard box by pulling on the line and bringing it back to the ground.

When it was colder I used a PEACOCK brand lighter fuel hand-warmer which used lighter fluid that reacts with a platinum catalyst to release heat by oxidation reactions. It generated heat for about 12 to 24 hours to keep me warm while launching and retrieving the balloons especially at night.

One day I remembered reading that in 1962, John Glenn thrust into space on board the Friendship 7, America’s first manned spacecraft to orbit the earth, with a specially modified Minolta Hi-Matic camera. I decided to get more sophisticated by adding a camera that had a self-timer to my experiments.  This way, I could take photographs of the city and countryside from a high altitude.

During several months the increasingly quite larger, now single authentic weather balloons, reached ever greater heights with more complex electronic equipment packages including cameras in a large wooden basket. I was in the process of locating and purchasing a huge weather balloon when I received a phone call from the Command Duty Officer at the Naval Air Station Los Alamitos, later renamed Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base / Los Alamitos Army Airfield.

Always interested in aviation, I thought this call was a to notify the surrounding community about an upcoming airshow provided by the NAS Los Alamitos. The officer invited me to a tour of the base, lunch at the mess hall officers club and a brief meeting with the base commander. Continue reading