Greenbrier Space Balloon Launchers Among Innovation Center's Targeted Users

by Mark Carter  on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013 9:59 am  

This shot was taken from near space, roughly 24 miles above the earth, from the Greenbrier High School space balloon that was launched in November by EAST Initiative students who will benefit from the Launch Pad.

Among the standing-room-only crowd gathered in Argenta Monday for the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub's announcement of a $250,000 federal grant from the Delta Regional Authority was a group of Greenbrier High School students. 

The students are participants in the Little Rock-based EAST Initiative program, and perhaps more than any other group they stand to benefit from the DRA grant that will speed up the opening of the Launch Pad maker space in the nonprofit Hub's planned Argenta Innovation Center.

Their interest in the Launch Pad, a technology lab space for students and entrepreneurs, comes naturally. Last month, a group of six EAST students at Greenbrier High School launched a weather balloon from the campus of Westside Elementary School in Greenbrier that reached an altitude of roughly 24 miles -- "near space" -- and stayed aloft for 111 minutes.

It took various temperature, distance and altitude readings before crashing back to earth about 100 miles from Greenbrier in an east Arkansas rice field. The students tracked its progress through GPS. The balloon carried a camera and small computer that took pictures, video and read data, all available at GHSSpaceBalloon.Blogspot.com.

The space balloon students, who secured FAA and air traffic control approval to make the launch, are project leader Ben Benton, Alex Dixon, Foster Hines, Zach Hollenbaugh and Max Huggins. Benton said the group worked for about a year in class preparing for the launch. He's excited about the possibilities that'll be offered by access to the Launch Pad, which is expected to officially "launch" the Innovation Center in the spring.

EAST Initiative president and CEO Matt Dozier said the center will open doors for kids who previously had limited opportunities to reach their potential.

"Here, kids won't be time constrained; they won't have to worry about grades or being tardy," he said. "They can just enjoy problem solving."

The facility currently exists as the Arts Connection, an after-school program for high school students located at Fourth and Poplar just off Main in downtown North Little Rock. The building, a former police substation which owner Harold Tenenbaum is selling to the Hub, is being renovated and expanded to about 17,000-SF to accomodate the four components that will make up the Innovation Center: the Arts Connection, the Silver Mine co-working space, the Launch Pad and the STEAM Room, devoted to students in partnership with EAST (environmental and spacial technology). 

(Go to ARHub.org for design plans, including video of the Innovation Center.)

Hub executive director Warwick Sabin and Launch Pad director Joel Gordon envision the Innovation Center as the local lab in which students, entrepreneurs, adults seeking a change in vocation and even employees of local companies can experiment, train and learn. 

The center will provide them the means to do so. Gordon calls it an "entrepreneurial and tech rec center."

"What I really see this place as is a touchdown," he said, likening entrepreneurship and technology to football and basketball for the generation coming up. "There are a lot of incredible organizations all over the state with similar missions, and we're creating a venue that's a physical focus point. This is the sort of thing that begins to create a community."

 

 

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