UT engineering group successfully launches balloon to edge of atmosphere

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Women in Aerospace for Leadership and Development pose in a hangar near where they launched a balloon to the edge of the atmosphere. The group focuses on the recruitment and retention of women in the aerospace field by providing hands-on leadership experience. 

Photo Credit: Courtesy Photo | Daily Texan Staff

A UT aerospace engineering group can officially say they have sent Bevo to the edge of space — Bevo the Dragon, that is. 

Women in Aerospace for Leadership and Development launched a weather balloon nicknamed Bevo the Dragon on April 6 from a hangar in Hillsboro. The balloon — carrying payloads of camcorders, cameras, probes and sensors — reached an altitude of 100,216 feet before popping and sending the equipment parachuting safely back down to Earth. 

Aerospace engineering senior Nicole Pinto said the balloon was able to create atmospheric profiles by altitude to compare with theoretical models. The group successfully launched the balloon despite facing 20 mph surface winds.

“The launching process was very eventful,” Pinto said. “It was really great to be able to do everything ourselves. It was exciting because when we let that balloon go it really felt like our own.”

But the main goal of the launch, according to Pinto, was to pilot an aerospace curriculum concept that would allow freshmen to build and launch their own balloons.

“We were able to get to near-space and perform valuable experiments for dirt cheap,” Pinto said. “Hopefully this project will inspire not only our group of women, but groups of incoming freshmen for years to come.”

Ciara Waldron, aerospace engineering senior and president of the group, said she joined because she enjoys hands-on projects and sought to get more women involved in aerospace engineering. 

Waldron said the group hopes to recruit more women by volunteering at outreach events and publicizing their launches with videos and pictures.

“I think WIALD is defying all odds. As women in aerospace, we are a very small minority,” Waldron said. “But we have come together and proven time and time again that women are excellent leaders and can accomplish just about anything we set out to do.”

Aerospace engineering senior Rebekah Sosland founded the engineering group in fall 2009 after concluding with several aerospace professors that the major wasn’t retaining enough women.  

“What I learned in starting this organization is that when people work together you can create something so much more powerful and you can share it,” Sosland said. “You can share the brainpower, share the enthusiasm.”

Sosland said the group helped her stay in aerospace and build a strong community among its members. Sosland envisions the group spreading to other branches in engineering one day. 

“It’s been a really rewarding experience for me watching this organization grow,” Sosland said. “It really helps students see the benefit of what they learn in the classroom and see how it works in real life.