NEW PALESTINE — Dressed in their gray TechRise T-shirts with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) logo on the back, four New Palestine Junior High School students said they were glad the hardest part of the project was finally complete.

Four seventh grade students — Abi Maple, Jianna Tweedy, Layla Ratliff and Gwen Melby — spent the past several months developing a payload to go up in a science balloon called “Sparky 1” and collect data about the earth’s ozone layer.

The project is part of an initiative through TechRise, led by NASA’s Flight Opportunities program and administered by officials with Future Engineers. It allows student teams to participate directly in the process by giving them the chance to design and build experiments for suborbital flight.

According to the plan, the team, named New Palestine Scientists, say the payload will be sent aloft sometime in August by NASA. The balloon with their payload will float into the atmosphere, observe the earth’s ozone layer, record data and collect samples of the air.

They hypothesized that the data they gather can be taken back into a NASA lab where scientists can possibly replicate the ozone layer or create a way to help repair it.

“We’re also planning on getting other information like testing the radiation and the density of the ozone layer,” Abi said.

Their idea was submitted to NASA as part of a nationwide school challenge in November, and officials liked the idea so much that the girls’ project was selected in late January as one of 60 team winners across the United States to be a part of the NASA TechRise Student Challenge.

“It’s been hard and kind of stressful, but mostly it’s been really fun. Overall, I’d have to say it was a very good experience so I’m glad we did it,” Abi said.

Now the team just has to wait until their payload with data collectors rises into the sky sometime in August which, if all goes well, will allow the students to analyze the information they collect next school year.

The science balloon launch will be live-streamed, so the team is hoping to get to watch the NASA launch to make sure the project goes as planned. The payload is full of all of the components the team made for testing the ozone layer, they said.

“It wasn’t easy and we ran into some problems, but in the end we got it done,” Gwen said. “There were points where we were like, ‘We’re not going to get this done,’ but we did and now it’s on it’s way.”

The project actually got off to a bit of a rough start because the girls originally thought they had to develop the payload as well as the science balloon to take their payload into the sky. But, NASA officials quickly told them that they’d handle that part of the project.

“We were spending time researching the type of gas we’d need for the balloon, the type of fabric the balloon needed to be,” Abi said. “We were stressed out about that.”

Gwen said that, at first, she thought the project would open her eyes to a few new pieces of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) material, but as they got deeper into the work, conversing with engineers from around the nation, she realized just how big of a deal the project was.

“As time went by, I did realize just how serious I should be taking this rather than thinking it was just a chance to spend more time with my friends,” Gwen said. “When we started to get into the bulk of the project, we were really learning a lot, so I started taking it more seriously.”

Layla noted during one of their final Zoom meetings with the engineers and NASA officials helping them, she realized how rare the opportunity to do a project with NASA was.

“They were telling everyone how we could use what we’ve done to help us help get an internship or showcase the project at your college,” Layla said. “It put everything into perspective just how big of a deal this really was because there are people using this type of an opportunity to help them go into a specific career when they graduate.”

Jianna feels like the whole opportunity to do the project with the help of NASA and other engineers was, “cool, but crazy,” she said.

There were times, Jianna noted, when the team couldn’t agree on where the components were supposed to go, but in the end, they worked together and got the project done.

“I thought the whole thing was neat because I learned how to do some things I’d never done, like learning how to solder,” Jianna said.

The team noted that the NASA officials worked well with them, putting things in terms seventh-graders could understand. The girls also said the project would not have been successful without the help of school officials, teachers and their sponsor, science teacher John Alter.

While the team put in countless hours before and after school and during spring break, they say it was well worth it even if some of their classmates never quite understood exactly what the project was about.

“Some people think we’re saving the world and some people were thinking we were sending a rocket to the moon or a golf ball to the middle layer of the earth,” Layla said.

Abi said their favorite misconception was the team was creating a spy balloon to fly over China.

“We’re not doing that,” Abi said with a laugh.