Rebekah Josefy '13 August 2, 2017 9:34 AM updated: August 14, 2017 11:44 AM
A 1979 Texas A&M graduate, Steve Fulton, has been awarded a unique opportunity by NASA to work with a group of students to build, launch and track a balloon that will stream video of the upcoming solar eclipse.
Steve Fulton ’79 teaches Information Technology and Computer Science to ninth- through 12th-grade students at Tigard High School and is the head coach for the school’s Technology Team. Fulton's involvement in this role happened to generate an unexpected Aggie connection and includes direct supervision of the school's high altitude ballooning team.
According to a Eclipse Ballooning Project press release from Montana State University Communications, "55 teams from across the country will live-stream footage of the total solar eclipse, in which the moon will entirely block the sun for approximately two minutes on a path progressing from the Pacific coast in Oregon (1:17 p.m. PCT) to the Atlantic coast in South Carolina (2:47 p.m. EST). While the majority of the teams are made up of college and university students, six of the fifty five are high school teams, including Tigard High School.
The team will launch the roughly 8-foot-tall, helium-filled balloon, which will carry a video camera and other equipment to an altitude of up to 100,000 feet, at approximately 9 a.m. from the football field at Culver High School, Culver, Oregon. Live footage from the camera will be available for public viewing on NASA’s website, http://nasa.gov.
In addition to a video camera, the team’s balloon will carry a GPS tracking system, a camera to capture still images of the eclipse, and a HAM radio transponder to help track and recover the payloads. Once the eclipse has passed, the balloon will pop and the payloads will parachute to Earth."
After 24 years, in the military, Fulton retired as a Navy commander (O-5) and moved to Sherwood, Oregon, with his wife and two children. He enrolled in the MA Teaching program at George Fox University and earned his teaching certificate. With a background in international relations and strategic studies, Fulton presumed he would be a social studies teacher. Instead, he was hired as the IT/CS teacher because of his engineering technology degree from A&M. Nine years later, Fulton continues to teach in these capacities and acts as the head coach for the tech team.
The Technology Team is an umbrella organization that includes four FIRST Technology Challenge Robotics Teams, three Oregon Game Project Challenge Teams, two Computer Programming Teams, a Marine Advanced Technology Education Team and the High Altitude Ballooning team.
Fulton has been pleased with the HAB Team's success and their selection for the NASA Eclipse Ballooning Project. Fulton said, “This was an opportunity for our students to use the skills they have developed in the classroom. Science, technology, engineering, and math- we covered them all in this endeavor. What a great project!”
Fulton says 2017 was a good year for the 91 students and 17 coaches that make up the Tech Team, as one of the FTC teams advanced to the FIRST Championship Tournament in Houston, and the MATE Team advanced to the Oregon Regional MATE Competition.
One of these 17 coaches is Mark Hancock ’79, who joined the team in 2015. Fulton said, “Imagine our surprise when we found that we both went to A&M, both started school in 1975, both members of the Class of '79, both as electrical engineering majors.”
Fulton said the coincidences piled up. “Our lives diverged in 1979 with Mark going into the private sector and my path leading to the military. Thirty-five years later, we met again in a classroom, in a school of 2,000 students, in a suburb in Oregon.”
While in Houston for the tournament in April, the FTC team was eliminated earlier than expected. Fortunately, Hancock and Fulton decided to take advantage of their free time and made a day trip to Texas A&M’s campus with the students before heading back to Oregon.
Texas A&M began offering degrees in astronomy last fall, under the leadership of Nicholas Suntzeff. In 2012, Suntzeff was recognized for his research as a recipient of The Association's Distinguished Achievement Award. Join Texas A&M's Department of Physics and Astronomy for a solar eclipse viewing party on Aug. 21. Visit astronomy.tamu.edu for more information.