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UND heads west by bus and balloon

Andrew Haffner

Grand Forks isn’t expected to get the full solar eclipse Monday, but a group from UND might just find the best view of all in the farthest reaches of the earth’s atmosphere.

Marissa Saad is the coordinator for the NASA-funded North Dakota Space Grant Consortium, a state branch of a national program with operations in all 50 states as well as the U.S. territories. Members of North Dakota’s consortium are housed in offices at the UND Department of Space Studies, but this weekend they’re heading out to Rexburg, Idaho, to chase a vantage point that’s nearly out of this world. Saad said the local group will be launching a weather balloon equipped with a camera to stream live video of the eclipse as its shadow falls across the country.

Saad said the local crew has been working for the past year on their balloon’s payloads, which also include projects created with the help of K-12 students from across the state.

The North Dakota team -- which consists of eight UND students as well as two staff members and a faculty member -- isn’t working alone. Their streaming efforts are part of a joining of all the consortium groups to produce a four-hour show that NASA is calling “unprecedented.”

“Over 55 teams are going to launch a high-altitude balloon up to 100,000 feet, and at that point you’re above 99 percent of the earth’s atmosphere,” Saad said. “The whole world -- millions of people -- will be able to see this awesome, rare event throughout this whole national collaboration.”

Heading west

The UND campus is almost as far east as one can get while still being in North Dakota, but a crew of about 30 university faculty and staff took things in an entirely different direction this week.

UND wrapped up its annual statewide bus tour Wednesday after hitting as many as 15 stops along the way between Grand Forks and the north unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

“We rotate the bus tour south and north,” university President Mark Kennedy explained from the road. As last year looped south, this year brought the bus through cities like Minot, Bottineau and Watford City.

The trip gives UND representatives an opportunity to reacquaint themselves with -- or, for new faculty, a chance to see with fresh eyes -- the broad range of North Dakotans that the institution serves in one way or another. Kennedy said the bus itinerary this year brought the Fighting Hawks overland to stops near -- like Campbell Farms near Grafton, N.D. -- and far, like the Oil Patch facilities of the Whiting Oil and Gas Corp.

The trip also included dinner on a ranch, a visit to the Spirit Lake Nation to see Cankdeska Cikana Community College in Fort Totten, N.D., and, of course, a trip to the national park.

The final stop of this year’s tour was just west of Grand Forks at Turtle River State Park near Arvilla, N.D., a site that gave a nice opportunity for a picnic dinner before heading back to town.

“The key goal of this trip is to have our faculty have good understanding of North Dakota culture,” Kennedy said. “There’s typically at least one ag, one oil and one American Indian university on the trip, to make sure they have an understanding of those components.”

Andrew Haffner

Andrew Haffner covers higher education and general assignment stories for the Grand Forks Herald. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied journalism, political science and international studies. He previously worked at the Dickinson Press.

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