18:32 PM

Wisconsin Cadets Capture High-Altitude Balloon Challenge

Experiment overview

AEAaltitudeA five-cadet team from the Wisconsin Wing’s Stevens Point Composite Squadron has finished first  in the third annual Civil Air Patrol’s High-Altitude Balloon Challenge, receiving the 2023 Kittinger Cup and an accompanying $5,000 prize for an experiment exploring cold welding in low Earth orbit. 

Cadets from the North Carolina Wing’s Raleigh Wake Composite Squadron placed second, earning a $500 prize. 

WIwingThird place, good for a $400 prize, went to the Missouri Wing’s Trail of Tears Composite Squadron team. 

In all, 115 teams totaling about 950 cadets participated in the competition. Cadets worked for four months to create almost 1,000 science experiments launched on two weather balloons, which reached burst altitudes of 100,325 and 100,318 feet, respectively.

The Stevens Point squadron team’s project received the highest cumulative score for a two-minute introductory pre-launch video, a mission patch, a complete science slide detailing the experiment, and a five-minute post-launch review video.

The team consisted of: 

  • Cadet Chief Master Sgt. Lily Schaefer
  • Cadet Senior Master Sgt. Barrett Dubos
  • Cadet Senior Airmen Alex Albright, Greyson Krepsky, and Micah Ritter

Team mentors were the squadron's  commander, 1st Lt. Ryan Vechinski; team facilitator, 2nd Lt. Jessica Schaefer; and aerospace education officer, Lt. Col. Peter Arnold.

 “When we started the High-Altitude Balloon Challenge, we were very interested in welding and we wondered how welding would work in low Earth orbit and beyond,” Dubos said in the video.

“We still don’t know all we want to know about cold welding and atomic bonding, and our experiment shows that,” Schaefer said. “We know a lot more about how to take things to the next step, including that cold welding is best first studied here on Earth, in a lab that can replicate the vacuum of space.”

The cadets’ video said the experiment would fit right in on the International Space Station.

“I hope that somebody from NASA sees this slide,” said Capt. Bob Roberts of the South Carolina Wing, project director for the competition. “Some of your cadets may get a phone call … I know for a fact that NASA is looking at this as well.”

The Stevens Point team plans to use the $5,000 prize to establish a scholarship fund to allow more cadets to take advantage of opportunities like flight and space academies.Air_&_Space_Forces_Association_(logo)

The Air & Space Forces Association supported the national cadet STEM challenge by providing unit grants to other category winners, representing 15 wings in seven regions (the Stevens Point team hailed from the eighth region), as follows:

mdwing2Hand-Drawn Mission Patches
First ($200 grant)
Maryland Wing – Granite Cadet Squadron

Finalists ($150 grants)
California Wing – San Francisco Cadet Squadron 86
Delaware Wing – Delaware Air National Guard Cadet Squadron
New York Wing – Ninth Suffolk Cadet Squadron 

CAwingDigitally Drawn Mission Patch Finalists:
First ($200 grant)
California Wing – Santa Barbara Composite Squadron 131

Finalists ($150 grants)
Delaware Wing – Middletown Cadet Squadron
New Jersey Wing – Curtiss Wright Composite Squadron

NCwingPre-Launch Video 
First ($200 grant)
North Carolina Wing – Raleigh-Wake Composite Squadron

Finalists ($150 grants):
Arizona Wing – Davis-Monthan Composite Squadron
New York Wing – Buffalo Composite Squadron

FLwingScience Experiment Report 
First ($350 grant)
Florida Wing – Clearwater Composite Squadron

Finalists ($250 grant) 
Idaho Wing – Nampa Composite Squadron
Minnesota Wing – St. Cloud Composite Squadron

VAwingDocumentary Video
First ($350 grant)
Virginia Wing – William P. Knight Composite Squadron

Finalists ($250 grants)
Florida Wing – Patrick Composite Squadron
Massachusetts Wing – Goddard Cadet Squadron

The balloons were launched Aug. 5 in Anderson, Indiana, after the teams shipped their experiment capsule boxes to the Anderson Preparatory Cadet Squadron. The Indiana Wing conducted a search and rescue exercise to track and retrieve the balloons using airplanes, drones, and a ground team. 

After the balloons were recovered, the boxes were returned to the squadrons for the cadets to analyze the data for their experiments. 

"This has truly been a combination of CAP’s three main missions all in one single activity,” Maj. Gen. Edward D. Phelka, Civil Air Patrol national commander and CEO, said during the Oct. 23 online awards ceremony, referring to the cadet program, aerospace education, and emergency services.

“Through this program, as each team researched science opportunities to improve how humans can live and work in space, I know that each of you also explored how you could work better as a team to accomplish a challenging goal," Phelka said.

"I applaud each of you for this extra effort and hope what you have learned through this program will help propel you onward toward greater challenges of innovation and accomplishment.” 

The Kittinger Cup and the $5,000 prize were provided by Sherry Kittinger, wife of the late U.S. Air Force Col. Joe Kittinger, pioneering high-altitude balloon scientist. 

The award winners, graphics, and video links can be viewed here.

Registration for the 2024 High-Altitude Balloon Challenge for Cadets will begin in March. Find out more on the activity's webpage

The first competition was won by a Massachusetts Wing team consisting of two cadets each from the Bridgewater State University Composite Squadron and Goddard Cadet Squadron. In 2022, the Virginia Wing’s William P. Knight Composite Squadron team finished first.