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Flying high: Students launch payloads on weather balloons

April 4, 2023

Experiment studies how radiation and high altitudes affect seeds

On a bright and early Saturday morning, a group of Arizona State University students gathered in a remote desert area, just west of Quartzite, Arizona. 

Their reason for being there? To launch two large weather balloons that can carry a payload (mechanically and thermally stable containers) near the edge of space so the students can study how high altitudes affect a variety of objects — in this case, lettuce seeds.

The students are part of ASU chapter of ASCEND (Aerospace Scholarships to Challenge and Educate New Discoverers), an Arizona Space Grant program that engages undergraduate students across the state in the full “design-build-fly-operate-analyze” cycle of a space mission. 

They were joined by volunteers from Arizona Near Space Research, an affiliate of ASCEND that helps coordinate balloon launches.

The students prepared two different seed packets for the payloads — one on the outside that will be exposed to high-altitude radiation and one on the inside that will just be exposed to the high altitude — to see how both the altitude and radiation exposure affects the seeds.

Two students prepping a payload in a car for a high-altitude weather balloon

Aerospace engineering student Quang Huy Dinh (right) and mechanical engineering student Arlene Morales (left) help prep the payload prior to the balloon launch outside Quartzite, Arizona, on April 1.

Student wearing hard hat and ASU sweatshirt holds a weather balloon payload

Exploration systems design student Elizabeth Garayzar holds the weather balloon payload before the launch on April 1.

Man and female student set up payload for weather balloon.

Professor Tom Sharp, in the School Of Earth and Space Exploration, and computer science undergraduate student Genevieve Cooper prep the payload for the weather balloon launch.

Hands tapping container of seeds on top of payload

Cooper attaches lettuce seeds on the outside of the payload that will be exposed to radiation during the weather balloon experiment.

Students and volunteers prep weather balloon for a launch in the desert

People holding large weather balloon up

ASU students and volunteers from the Arizona Near Space Research group prep the helium weather balloon during the ASCEND launch outside of Quartzsite, Arizona, on April 1.

Students hold up the payload tethered to the balloon as it launches

Students hold up the payload as it launches with the weather balloon on April 1.

Students look to the sky as a weather balloon takes off

Students watch as a payload and weather balloon take off. The balloons traveled upward of 100,000 feet before popping and parachuting back down to Earth in the Harcuvar Mountains Wilderness.

Photos by Deanna Dent/Arizona State University

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ASU Spy Fiction and Film class spotlights Bond, James Bond

April 4, 2023

First Bond book 'Casino Royale' celebrates 70th anniversary in April

Bond. James Bond.

Has there been a more iconic name in film history? Whether it’s Sean Connery, Roger Moore or Daniel Craig, the mere utterance of that name is catnip for spy fiction devotees.

This April marks the 70th anniversary of the publication of Ian Fleming’s first Bond book, "Casino Royale." ASU News talked to Arizona State University Professor Elizabeth Horan, who teaches a Spy Fiction and Film course, and who happens to be a longtime Bond fan herself, about the enduring character and, of course, who’s her favorite Bond actor.

The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Question: Tell me about your class. What do you hope students get out of it?

Answer: Some of them are interested in writing spy fiction. Some of them are from the film school and are interested in visual projects. I have people from all over the university. They choose to do a creative project at the end of the class and take what they’ve learned and apply it to (their study). One of the things that we study pretty closely is the formula. We talk about what the formula is as far as film and what it is for literature. We finished Bond week (in early February). We actually had two weeks on Bond, and I call it Bond and anti-Bond because one of my theories is that parody defines the genre. So, we’ll do a module that’s serious and then we’ll do one that parodies it. Shows like "Get Smart," for example.

Q: This is the 70th anniversary of "Casino Royale." What about that book strikes you seven decades later?

A: I was struck by the misogyny. Because it’s one thing to see it on the screen and just see it as part of the whole shtick, but it struck me much more in Fleming’s novel. I was also struck by how good it is. It’s really a very well put-together novel. Of course, with Fleming, we’re supposed to admire James Bond as a connoisseur. So, we get all of that too.

Q: A lot of people won't have read the book but will have seen the movie starring Daniel Craig. How did Craig sort of change the Bond that we see in the book?

A: Daniel Craig’s "Casino Royale" is a total restart of the Bond narrative. He remakes that narrative and the character, ultimately. Many of my students had never seen a pre-Daniel Craig Bond film. When they saw them in my class, they were horrified by what they saw.

Q: You mean the misogyny of the early Bond films with Sean Connery and Roger Moore?

A: And the racism. We talked about Rush Limbaugh and about 10 years ago when he heard there was going to be a new Bond in Idris Elba, and how he went on and on about how Bond was supposed to be a Scotsman and it never occurred to him that you could be Black and Scottish. I asked them to think about what would change in the story if you have non-traditional casting for the next Bond. They began talking their way through it, and they realized virtually everything. They started with Moneypenney, with having Eve Moneypenny being played as Black woman and as a potential agent. In the end, I was so disappointed when she didn’t remain in the field and went back to being a secretary (in the films).

Q: Given the misogyny and racism, why do you think the Bond character has been so enduring?

A: It reinvents itself. From Sean Connery to Roger Moore, who takes the silliness and expands it by 10 to 20%, and then Daniel Craig. Part of it is they know how to do a good chase scene. My heart rate goes up when I watch those chases. They know how to do it. They follow the formula, but they also know whether to alter it. And where they alter is is sometimes brilliant. I was showing the students the scene from "Casino Royale" where Daniel Craig is being whipped by Mads Mikkelsen, who might by my favorite Bond villain. And right after that, I showed them the clip where Raul Silva (played by Javier Bardem in "Skyfall") is coming on to Bond, who is sitting there tied up. So, they’re always willing to explore masculinity in a whole range of ways. Daniel Craig gives us a vulnerable and injured Bond.

Q: I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask. Who’s your favorite Bond?

A: I managed to get away from this in class because I don’t have any favorites.

Q: You have to. Everybody has a favorite Bond.

A: Yeah, I like Daniel Craig.

Q: Why?

A: (Laughing.) Well, he’s a blue-eyed blond. Also, because of his vulnerability and coolness. He doesn’t have the smugness that Sean Connery’s Bond had. Sean Connery would be very pleased with himself when he accomplished something. ... I mean, he’s just very satisfied with himself. I don’t see that in Daniel Craig at all.

Top photo: Daniel Craig in "Casino Royale" (2006). Courtesy of Eon Productions/IMDB.

Scott Bordow

Reporter , ASU News