San Jose guy gets his helium weather balloon back



By Lisa Fernandez

Publication: San Jose Mercury News (California)

Date: Thursday, September 17 2009


For everyone out there wondering whether Ron Meadows of San Jose got his helium balloon back, the answer is “… (drumroll please) a resounding “Yes!”

“You should see my flood of e-mails,” Meadows said Wednesday. “They all want to know: Did you get it? Did you get it?”

Last week, the Mercury News wrote about Meadows, a pool service owner and amateur radio operator, who set about building a helium weather balloon equipped with cameras and communication equipment.

Meadows wasn’t setting any scientific records. Rather, the flight was a personal goal for a guy with a high school education who has a lifelong love of science and photography. He wanted to see if his balloon could soar past 100,000 feet in the stratosphere — which it did. He wanted to see if his balloon’s cameras could shoot pictures of the Earth — which they did. And he wanted to see if he could track where the giant balloon would land — which he did.

The only real glitch, he said, is that he lost one “payload package,” which held a simplex repeater, a device that helped his balloon team communicate with each other.

“It must have ripped off,” Meadows said. “And who knows where it is now.”

On Saturday, the balloon burst and fell to earth on private property in Merced, after being launched from south of Los Banos earlier that morning. Meadows left a note on a locked gate, explaining to the owner his mission and who he was.

Meadows was able to reach the owner, who recovered the burst balloon and equipment. Meadows drove from his Cambrian neighborhood home to Merced on Sunday and brought what’s left of his “baby” back home. The balloon’s cameras took amazing shots from the stratosphere of the Earth. In one picture, bits of the burst balloon are seen flying in space. “I couldn’t wait to get back and upload my photos,” he said.

Mercury News staff writer  Lisa Fernandez  408-920-5002.