Escaping the Pull of Your Ordinary Orbit

This year Putnam County High School is flying high above all the other schools in the state. By introducing a new and innovative way of learning the field of aviation, Putnam County High School established a drone class. This course allows students to get nationally certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

This drone has a camera attached to capture a view from above.

While requiring a high level of intelligence in math and science, this course ignites students’ desire to learn a new way to document and observe occurrences in space. Recently, this class was accompanied by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Mercer University to launch a weather balloon with a camera attached into the atmosphere.

PCHS team
PCHS students position their drones on the launch pads and get ready for take off.

Dr. Anthony Choi, the professor overseeing the Machine Intelligence and Robotics Laboratory at Mercer University, founded the program the “High Altitude Project.” The purpose of this project is to create an efficient way to launch weather balloons at least 12,000 feet into the atmosphere to capture significant and rare occurrences in space, such as a solar eclipse, that is supposed to occur on the continental USA this year. This particular event happens 2 to 3 times every 50 years and has never been captured or filmed from space.  These balloons allow us to see what is happening in our universe.

Dr. Choi (far left) and the Mercer University team inflate the weather balloon to prepare for the launch.

Recognizing a gap between scientific facts and actual video documentary of these events, Dr. Choi is striving to beat the norm, not settling for programs that do not efficiently investigate this area of science. Dr. Choi believes that PCHS, Mercer, and NASA are “doing something amazing here.”

Dr. Choi saw a need for the documentation of this event and instead of ignoring it, he was diligent in finding and creating history.  The steps toward meeting the need that Dr. Choi and his team saw were not predicated on acceptance from the scientific community. Instead, his team was driven only by the desire to establish a program that satisfied the curiosity of scientists around the world. Dr. Choi differs from other scientists because he is a risk taker. He was willing to be different from the rest of society and actually take action on a need that most likely other scientists were interested in investigating, but never had the courage to explore.

I personally consider Dr. Choi a role model for me. Other scientists and colleagues thought that this project was a waste of time and that he should just rely on more practical  programs that were already established. However, Dr. Choi somehow found it within himself not to settle. He was persistent. He saw the value in what he wanted to do. He wanted to create a program that could make history, and he did. Having the opportunity to meet someone creating something other than the norm – creating something that is based on a dream – provides me with the courage to explore. I learned from Dr. Choi to explore beyond just what society feeds your mind and to never let your curiosity die. Escaping the pull of your ordinary orbit can be rewarding in many ways. However, you never know unless you try.

By Abby Witcher, PCHS Senior ’17


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