Space Center U®

Atmospheric Research program

Ever wonder what it’s like at the edge of space? How cold is it? How much air pressure is at 100,000 feet? In the Space Center U Atmospheric Research program, participants join a high-altitude ballooning mission. Students take on flight roles and become community scientists while exploring the troposphere and stratosphere.

Space Center University for Atmospheric Research offers a challenging science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education program inspired by space exploration and community science. Participants at the five-day program will:

  • Perform hands-on, engineering-based activities and data collection technology integration for real-world analysis
  • Launch and track a high-altitude weather balloon with cameras and sensors to study the troposphere and stratosphere (~70,000 - 100,000 feet or ~21,000 - 30,000 meters)
  • Determine team roles, analyze and report out scientific data from the flight
  • Participate in interactive, project-based learning that includes flight predictions, payload design, high-altitude experiment design, collaborative teaming and global awareness development
  • Discuss what it takes to work at NASA and the projects that prepare humans for space exploration with NASA experts
  • Access “the real thing” with behind-the-scenes tours of astronaut training facilities at NASA Johnson Space Center, which include Historic Mission Control, the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility and Rocket Park
  • Eat lunch daily at Space Center Houston in the Zero-G Diner
  • Have Brunch with an Astronaut
  • Earn a Space Center Houston Certificate of Flight
  • Launch their payloads from Motor Speedway Resort Houston

Space Center U logo

×Individuals and groups with three or fewer participants should register online. Groups with four or more participants should register via the PDF form.



Space Center U Atmospheric Research program

Program activities

Flight prep

Flight Preparation

There are many preparations to be made before a high-altitude balloon launch or a rocket launch at NASA. Students will have specific roles within their flight teams to ensure their mission success. Teams will develop checklists, test equipment in the flight system and run flight prediction software to determine a safe flight path for their payload recovery.

Experimental design

Experiment Design

Students will design an experiment in a 50 milliliter test tube and launch it into near space (~70,000 - 100,000 feet or ~21,000 – 30,000 meters). Registered participants will be sent a Flight Experiment Guide in advance to help them design experiments to generate exciting results in this unique environment. Payloads will be exposed to higher levels of radiation, extremely cold temperatures and low atmospheric pressure. Participants will receive their test tube and prepare their experiment for flight upon arrival to the program.

Data analysis

Data Analysis and Presentations

Each flight team will present briefings and debriefings throughout the week based on their specific flight role. All students will have access to the flight data, images and video to use for their final group presentations at the end of the week. During this time, each student will share their flight experiment and any immediate data that can be presented to the group.


Launch, Tracking and Recovery

Inflating the large weather balloon with helium is a delicate part of the mission and rehearsals are key. Students will practice their launch with a tethered balloon payload at Space Center Houston before heading to the launch site. Once the teams are comfortable setting up their flight system and recording data, they will prepare for the official launch the following day.

After launch, satellite communications allow the students to track the progress of the flight system in real time along with sensor-acquired data. Friends and family can follow from home as each mission will have a specific web address that can be shared. Students will return to Space Center Houston to track the flight system and analyze the data. A Space Center Houston flight recovery team will go out to recover the payload and return it to the center so students can analyze their experiments, data, photos and video from the flight.

Click here to track the flight.

*Launch sites may vary based on flight predictions.
The balloon and experiments are tracked.

The balloon and experiments are recovered.

Space Center Houston and NASA tours

Space Vehicle Mockup Facility at NASA Johnson Space Center

NASA Exclusives: Behind-the-Scenes Reality Tours

Students will tour NASA Johnson Space Center with stops at Historic Mission Control, Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory and the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility including its full-size training modules of the International Space Station. They will see rockets that were used in early space exploration.

Independence Plaza, which is home to the massive shuttle carrier aircraft, NASA 905, with the high-fidelity shuttle replica on top.

Independence Plaza

Get a rare glimpse into the Shuttle Program with a tour the international landmark exhibit Independence Plaza. Students will go inside the high-fidelity shuttle replica Independence, mounted on top of the historic and original NASA 905 shuttle carrier aircraft, and then explore the giant plane. It is the world’s only shuttle mounted on an SCA and the only one allowing the public to enter both.

Two people admire artifacts in Starship Gallery including the Mercury 9.

Starship Gallery

Starship Gallery at Space Center Houston is home to multiple flown spacecraft and national treasures. Get an up-close look at some of the most amazing artifacts that trace the progression of human space exploration. Participants will see and touch real moon rocks and flown spacecraft while learning about the history of space flight.

Graduation Day

Students enjoy brunch while hearing an astronaut share stories from space.

Brunch with an Astronaut

Dine with a NASA astronaut and hear their first-hand stories about space exploration. Ask questions about their mission experience and learn what it takes to become an astronaut.


Celebrate your students’ achievements at Space Center U graduation surrounded by one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of spacesuits in Astronaut Gallery. To commemorate the special experience, students will receive Space Center U certificates, group photos and be able to share their team mission patch designs.

Sample weekly agenda

Monday Welcome to Space Center Houston, flight roles, flight predictions, equipment testing, payload and experiment design, mission patch design
Tuesday Parachute design activity and robotics, tethered practice launch, data analysis, final payload design and experiment preparations
Wednesday Travel to launch site and balloon release, balloon tracking, recovery and initial data analysis
*Balloon launch dates are subject to change based on the weather conditions and FAA clearance.
Thursday Atmospheric data analysis, flight team preparations for final presentations, NASA guest speaker* and tours of NASA Johnson Space Center
*Dates and times of the guest speaker are subject to change.
Friday Final debrief presentations, brunch and Q&A with an astronaut, Starship Gallery tour, Independence Plaza tour and graduation ceremony

Program details

Age and class size

  • Participants must be age 16 or older.
  • To open the event, there must be a minimum of 10 participants registered for the event. If an event has less than 10 participants then it will be cancelled. Participants may receive a refund or move to another event date.
  • The maximum per event is 40 students. Larger groups will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
  • A minimum of 1:10 chaperons to student ratio is required for groups that attend the program.
  • Individual attendees must be signed in and out of the program each day by a legal guardian along with identification.

Pricing information

Individuals or groups with less than 20 participants

  • Students: $724.95
  • Chaperones: $724.95

Groups with more than 20 participants

  • Students: $629.95
  • Chaperones: $629.95

Graduation ceremony and Brunch with an Astronaut parent and non-program participant price: $69.95 per person.


Transportation from any airport to the hotel is the responsibility of the participant.

Transportation to and from the hotel to Space Center Houston is the responsibility of the group.

Transportation to and from the high-altitude balloon launch site will be provided by Space Center Houston.

Groups should meet with the Program Coordinator at 7:50 a.m. each day at the front of Space Center Houston for check in and instructions.

What to bring

The near-space balloon launch and sensor testing will take place outside. Please make sure to check the weather in Houston before your event and plan for what to wear accordingly. For example, if it is going to be cooler weather then pack layers. If it is going to be hot then pack short sleeves, shorts and sunscreen.


  • Pack enough clothing for at least six days.
  • Be sure to bring clothing for an outdoor launch. This includes closed-toed shoes, sunscreen, hats, etc.
  • Pack a jacket as it may get cold in the classroom and a raincoat (in case of inclement weather) for the tram ride and launch day.

Other items

  • Cameras are welcome.
  • Participants may want some form of entertainment for the evenings at the hotel. Don’t forget to bring a charger for phones or games.
  • Most hotels used have Wi-Fi access.
  • Students may also want to bring cash for incidentals, evening meals and souvenirs.


The safety of all participants and staff is very important. If inclement weather is forecasted and Space Center Houston is asked to close, we will notify all participants. If a participant cannot get to Space Center U due to the weather, please call and notify Reservations or your Education contact.

Launching a high-altitude balloon safely depends on a percentage of clear skies per the Federal Aviation Administration. Launch dates and times are subject to change during the week. Space Center Houston staff will do everything possible to ensure a safe launch for the participants. However, no refunds will be given in the case of poor weather during the entire five-day program.

Cancellations and refunds

No refunds will be given within four (4) weeks of your visit due to the advanced hotel reservations, staff scheduling, food preparation and material purchasing. For this reason, refunding partial or full payment is not possible.

Cancellation of your visit must be received in writing, four (4) weeks prior to the date of visit.

Space Center Houston reserves the right to cancel prior to the event due to low enrollment. Final cancellations for this reason will be determined four (4) weeks or more from the scheduled date.

No refunds will be given in the case of poor weather, which results in a balloon not being launched during the entire five-day program.

No refunds will be given if the high-altitude balloon and payload are lost and/or cannot be recovered.

Frequently asked questions

Our goal is to fly the balloon between 70,000 feet and 100,000 feet (~21,000 – 30,000 meters) so that their sensors and cameras can get higher than most of our atmosphere. However, we cannot guarantee a specific height will be reached.
No, we will be going off site to one of our launch sites so that we stay out of the air space and urban environment. Safety is our number one priority.
We have built the schedule to be flexible and allow for a launch slip. Space Center Houston will do everything they can to ensure that a payload is launched during the week.
Space Center Houston will do everything possible to ensure that a payload is launched during the week. If there is an extreme circumstance where a launch cannot take place over the course of five days then we still cannot offer a refund.
A Flight Experiment Guide will be sent to the participants prior to their event so that they can brainstorm ideas, conduct research and prepare their experiment for the flight.
Space Center Houston will do everything possible to ensure that the equipment and payloads are recovered. If for some reason the recovery team cannot safely retrieve the payload then alternate data from previous flights will be used for analysis.
The participants will need to look at the weather forecast before their event. Pack layers as even though it may be warm outside, it can be very cold in the building. We will be outdoors for the balloon launch so bring closed-toe shoes, shorts, t-shirts, hats, sunscreen and any other items you may need. If it is cooler weather then bring jackets, coats, pants, gloves, hats and any other items you may need.
The medical and media release need to be completed and sent to four (4) weeks prior to the event start date.
At the edge of outer space

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