Rogue Valley News: Friday, 4/16 – The West Coast Experiencing Increased Risk of Fire Danger, Medford’s Rogue Retreat Urban Campground For Unhoused Could Double In Size

The latest news stories and stories of interest in the Rogue Valley from the digital home of Southern Oregon, from Wynne Broadcasting’s RogueValleyMagazine.com

Friday, April 16, 2021

Rogue Valley Weather

Today- Sunny, with a high near 82. Calm wind becoming north around 5 mph in the afternoon.

Saturday- Sunny, with a high near 84. Calm wind becoming east around 6 mph.

Sunday- Sunny, with a high near 84. Calm wind.

Monday- Mostly sunny, with a high near 80.

Tuesday- Mostly sunny, with a high near 75.

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Oregon reports 733 new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases, 6 new deaths

There are six new COVID-19 related deaths in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 2,455. The Oregon Health Authority reported 733 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 bringing the state total to 172,931.

The new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases reported today are in the following counties: Baker (16), Benton (18), Clackamas (63), Clatsop (3), Columbia (10), Coos (9), Crook (5), Curry (3), Deschutes (53), Douglas (10), Grant (1), Hood River (6), Jackson (34), Jefferson (5), Josephine (13), Klamath (46), Lane (74), Lincoln (6), Linn (23), Malheur (2), Marion (56), Morrow (1), Multnomah (120), Polk (22), Tillamook (3), Umatilla (9), Union (3), Wasco (8), Washington (98) and Yamhill (13).

Vaccinations in Oregon

Today, OHA reported that 44,971 new doses of COVID-19 vaccinations were added to the state immunization registry. Of this total, 29,445 doses were administered on April 14 and 15,526 were administered on previous days but were entered into the vaccine registry on April 14.

The seven-day running average is now 38,728 doses per day.

Oregon has now administered a total of 1,242,066 doses of Pfizer, 1,069,417 doses of Moderna and 87,339 doses of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines.As of today, 966,834 people have completed a COVID-19 vaccine series. There are 1,492,658 who have had at least one dose.

Cumulative daily totals can take several days to finalize because providers have 72 hours to report doses administered and technical challenges have caused many providers to lag in their reporting. OHA has been providing technical support to vaccination sites to improve the timeliness of their data entry into the state’s ALERT Immunization Information System (IIS).

To date, 1,499,355 doses of Pfizer, 1,301,500 doses of Moderna and 215,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines have been delivered to sites across Oregon.

These data are preliminary and subject to change.

OHA’s dashboards provide regularly updated vaccination data, and Oregon’s dashboard has been updated today.

South African Variant Turns Up In Oregon

Oregon’s top state epidemiologist said Wednesday that the state has detected its first cases — eight in total — of the B.1.351 coronavirus variant that has been linked to South Africa.

State epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger told a group of state lawmakers that other COVID-19 “variants of concern” first linked with Brazil, the United Kingdom and California also increased by notable levels. The reported numbers jumped from April 5 to April 10 — with the latest figures just showing up on the Oregon Health Authority’s website Wednesday.

Experts are closely watching the spread of variants in Oregon and across the globe — saying they could complicate efforts to reach herd immunity as they continue to mutate and attempt to evade the effectiveness of current vaccines.

The B.1.351 variant previously hadn’t been identified in Oregon before last Saturday. It’s thought to possibly be more contagious and more successful at undermining the effectiveness of current vaccines.

Sidelinger said he has no data yet on whether the eight cases were among people who’d recently traveled to countries with higher rates of B.1.351 or whether any of those infected are linked to each other. More than 450 cases of B.1.351 have been identified in at least 35 states other than Oregon, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cases of P.1, initially linked to Brazil, grew from one previously reported case to a total of four. The strain is believed to be more contagious and possibly in the process of mutating to become more successful at evading the effectiveness of current vaccines.

The state reported a more than three-fold increase in cases of B.1.1.7, the variant first detected in the United Kingdom — from 22 to 69.

“We’re seeing a fairly significant rise in B.1.1.7,” Sidelinger said.

B.1.1.7 is thought to be 60% more contagious and studies show conflicting data on whether it causes more serious disease than the strains that had been dominant in the United States up until last week, when federal officials said B.1.1.7 had taken over as the most common strain.

“I think the verdict is really still out on whether this is more transmissible and more serious or just more transmissible,” Sidelinger said.

The variants first identified in California, however, continue to show up in higher numbers in Oregon than all the other variants of concern combined. Reported cases of those strains, B.1.427 and B.1.429, more than doubled in Oregon, from 271 to nearly 600 from April 5 to April 10.

Experts say the number of reported cases of any of these variants of concern are only a fraction of the true number. Sidelinger said the state is testing about 2.6% of cases for variants — ranking it fifth highest in the nation among states conducting genomic sequencing.

As of Wednesday, the state reported more than 172,000 known COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic last year.

Testing event at “The Cut” is a step to building trust with folks living on the street

Mobile public health lab and tent for COVID-19 testing at The Cut
Mobile public health lab and tent for COVID-19 testing at The Cut

A lot of people camp out and live along a bike path in the St. Johns neighborhood of Portland. The area is informally known as “The Cut.” In March, Oregon Health Authority (OHA) worked closely with grassroots activists and community organizations to test 49 people living there for COVID-19. 

It was an event that required careful planning to establish trust. “This is a population where we need to be especially mindful,” says Mehera Christian, regional testing coordinator at OHA. 

“These are individuals with complex physical and mental health issues. There is a lot of fear and mistrust. We work with community partners who know and serve the community to help connect with sensitivity and compassion.” 

Every Saturday, grassroots activists and organizations go to a central location along the path with services and supplies. People who live there go to get food, blankets and socks, or to recycle their bottles and cans to get money back.  

A couple weeks ahead of the testing event, OHA staff went out with trusted community partners to introduce themselves and spread the word about the upcoming testing event.  

“We were able to find out what some of their concerns were before the day of testing. They heard about the event and could ask questions, and then they knew some of our faces when we came back,” says Christian. 

One key partner was Portland People’s Outreach Project (PPOP). The all-volunteer organization has been doing emergency and outreach work directly along The Cut for two years. To reduce risk, they provide clean syringes, Naloxone (Narcan) and other supplies directly to users.  

That part of town, says PPOP volunteer Sam Junge, is especially short on low-barrier health services. The testing event, he says, was a start to establishing trust and affirms the need for health services in this area going forward. Junge also added that “it’s a testament to the importance of serving and investing in people who use drugs.” 

OHA staff brought a mobile lab to The Cut and tested 49 people in two hours using rapid results tests.   

“We were set up for motel referrals and had transportation arranged if people tested positive,” says Junge.   

But there were zero positive tests.  

“It’s just a big relief for people,” says Christian. “They’re aware of the risks and, of course, being on the street, they’re especially vulnerable. If we make it past the trust issue and people see you’re there and caring and wanting to help, there’s a real gratitude.” 

LOCAL HEADLINES:

Medford’s Rogue Retreat Urban Campground For Unhoused Could Double In Size

After Medford’s city council voted to approve a new prohibited camping ordinance earlier this month, Rogue Retreat has been discussions with the City about adding an additional urban campground to the existing site on Biddle Road.

The urban campground expansion could come to fruition if approved by the Medford City Council. Under the proposal, the new location would also be on Biddle Road, right across from the current site.

If passed, the new campground could help Rogue Retreat house 50 more people. The urban campground houses more than 70 at present.

“So, if they’re a couple, they can come in as a couple, which will increase that number past 50. It’ll open up more opportunity for people as they progress forward,” said Justin Hon, the operations manager for Rogue Retreat.

The new campground will have on-site case managers to help those who are homeless get back on their feet.

“Sometimes they just need a spot to rest their head, and connect with services — like a home base, where service providers can come find them,” Hon added.

This week, Rogue Retreat also welcomed 14 wildfire survivors into the new Project Turnkey Housing program, which will see the Redwood Inn motel on Riverside converted into emergency housing.

The non-profit has been working with Oregon DHS to help house those who have been displaced by the September Wildfires.

“New units will provide people that were fire survivors a place where they can decompress, de-escalate. And ideally, with case management support, find their way back into permanent housing into the community,” said Matt Vorderstrasse, Program Director for Rogue Retreat.

Vorderstrasse said that renovations on the Redwood Inn are expected to begin in May. When the transition is complete, the new shelter is expected to provide 47 apartments with kitchenettes for families and individuals in desperate need of housing, with Rogue Retreat operating the facility.

Officer-Involved Shooting UPDATE from Incident in March

CASE NUMBER:  21000568

INCIDENT DATE AND TIME:  March 25th, 2021 @ 12:06am

REPORTING DEPUTY:  Sheriff Dave Daniel

DETAILS:

On March 24, 2021, there was a Josephine County Major Crime Team callout that included members of the Grants Pass Department of Public Safety, Oregon State Police and Josephine County Sheriff’s Office.  The callout was related to a burnt vehicle with suspected bodies in it located at the end of a “logging road.” The area is several miles off of Lakeshore Drive. Because of the nature of the location, the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office facilitated the use of a side-by-side and all-terrain vehicles for investigators to reach the location.  A “staging area” was set up down the logging road at a fork on McMullen Creek Road. One fork led to the scene and the other fork goes further up McMullen Creek before connecting with Kerby Mainline Road.

Just after midnight (approximately 12:06am), on March 25, 2021, members of the Sheriff’s Office and members of OSP were finalizing the plan for returning/continuing investigation logistics in the morning.

From the “right” fork of McMullen Creek, they heard a car approaching and the officers could see headlights. There were two vehicles—one appeared to be an SUV and the other was a small truck. The Sheriff’s Office truck and trailer that was transporting the all-terrain vehicles was blocking the road at/near the fork. The Officers witnessed the truck move in front of the SUV as the vehicles approached the staging area.  As the vehicles approached, because of the area, the hour, and the outstanding double homicide suspect(s), the officers attempted to contact the drivers.

As the vehicles slowed, Lt. Jim Geiger, who was wearing traditional Sheriff’s Office uniform attempted to contact the truck. Other law enforcement also contacted the truck, announced who they were and repeatedly gave commands such as “Police”, “show us your hands”, and “Sheriff’s Office”.

Rather than stopping, the driver of the truck slowly moved forward then “ground” the truck into reverse and when rapidly backing up, struck the SUV behind it in an attempt to flee.  This movement of the truck and position of Lt. Geiger placed him in imminent threat of serious physical injury or death.  As a result, Lt. Geiger discharged his service pistol 5 times before diving into a roadside ditch to avoid being run over.  The truck then fled the area, and has not been located. 

Due to the ongoing nature of this incident/investigation further details cannot be provided by the District Attorney’s Office.  This OIS was investigated by the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and scene reconstruction conducted by the Oregon State Police. 

This investigation has been reviewed by the Josephine County District Attorney who has cleared Lt. Geiger of any wrongdoing.  Lt. Geiger has been taken off “administrative leave” and is cleared for active duty.

No further details of this incident are being released at this time. — Josephine Co. Sheriff’s Office

AROUND the STATE of OREGON

Red Flag Warning Issued for Much of Northwest Oregon – The West Coast Experiencing Increased Risk of Fire Danger

EXTREME Fire Danger - Burn Ban for Oregon City in Effect | City of Oregon  City

Much of northwestern Oregon will be under a Red Flag Warning on Friday, according to the National Weather Service.

Starting Friday morning, the warning will last into the evening, from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. Red Flag Warnings are issued when warm temperatures, combined with low humidity and gusty winds create an increased risk of fire danger.

According to the NWS, northeast to east winds of 10 to 20 mph, with gusts up to 35 mph, are expected late Friday morning and will last through the day. Minimum humidity is projected to be around 15 – 25%.

The warning covers the Willamette Valley and extends west out to the coastal towns of Florence and Newport, as well as northwest of Portland.

The memory of wildfires from last fall are still fresh. And fire officials are taking extra precautions as the weather turns hotter and drier. On Wednesday, several counties, including the tri-county area, implemented burn bans. This restricts the outdoor burning of yard debris, campfires, and fire pits. 

It comes after several counties in the Portland Metro area issued burn bans on Wednesday, including Washington, Clackamas, and Multnomah counties. Polk, Linn, Marion, Yamhill counties also announced burn bans, as well.

On Thursday, Clark County and Cowlitz County also issued temporary burn bans.

The wildfire season “is coming quickly and it’s coming earlier.”

That’s the message from meteorologist Eric Kurth and the National Weather Service in Sacramento, California, as the state deals with a crippling drought and vegetation and grasses that are already beginning to brown.

“We are seeing record levels of dryness for this time of year. It’s more like what we would see later in June than mid-April,” said Kurth.

He is concerned about this year’s fire season on the heels of an extremely dry year in 2020, and the most active fire season that California has ever recorded.

Vegetation still dormant, making fires more likely

Someone who gets up close to California’s vegetation is Craig Clements. He’s a professor of meteorology and director of the Fire Weather Research Laboratory at San Jose State University.

He and his students visit various sites every two weeks to take samplings of the plants to study their moisture content. On April 1 they noticed something quite alarming when they went to Blackberry Hill just outside of San Jose. He tweeted this graph that illustrates the grim discovery.

“April 1 is usually the time of year we have the highest fuel moisture content, and this year they are still dormant because lack of rain,” said Clements.

“They are stressed and there’s no new growth. The plants aren’t responding because of the lack of moisture.” In fact, two out of the three sites they visited, plants were showing no new growth.

Moisture in plants and new growth are what California depends on to help keep wildfires at bay. When the plants lack moisture, fires ignite much more easily and spread faster.

Clements’ trip up to Blackberry Hill uncovered a record low for new growth. A dire situation, but one he isn’t surprised by. “It’s a telling sign of the impact of drought,” said Clements.

He said the plants still have a small window of time to sprout new growth, but because of the delay in new growth, the plants most likely won’t reach their peak and will dry out faster.

Clements said this could lead to more large fires in June than California typically would see.

California’s worsening drought

California depends on atmospheric rivers, or plumes of moisture, streaming in off the Pacific to bring in much needed rain each year.

This year, most of the rain events followed a more northerly track, sending a huge majority of the rain and moisture to the Pacific Northwest.

Clements watched these weather events miss Central California time and time again.

“It was dry in January and February, then there was no miracle March,” he said. The result is that 92% of the state is now under drought conditions, which is the largest percentage since March 2016.

“It could be a big year when it comes to fire acres,” he said. “Climate change has impacted our fire season.”

Climate change is causing tremendous variations in our day-to-day weather. The world is experiencing more weather extremes, and the West Coast is feeling the effects.

The state is 70% below normal for total precipitation this water year. The water year begins October 1 and last through September 30 of the following year.

The rainfall deficit is 50 inches below normal, leaving many of the reservoirs extremely low. The California Department of Water Resources is forecasting the statewide reservoir storage to be about 60% of normal after the snowpack melts.

The Sacramento Valley usually receives about 85% of its water supply by April 1. This year it has only received just 43%. Many of the streams in this region are flowing at less than 10% of normal. It’s a huge wake-up call for the area as it stares head-on at the upcoming fire season.

“We’re seeing more extremes in terms of year-to-year — big pendulum swings from wet to dry. It’s very unusual,” said Kurth. He worries that these extremes are making the vegetation more vulnerable and unable to recover from one year to the next. “We get these extremes and in recent years it’s been even more extreme,” he says.

Last year, California wildfires burned more than 4.2 million acres. The August complex Fire alone, burned more than 1 million acres — something California hasn’t seen before. In response, California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a landmark $536 million wildfire package that will accelerate projects to protect high-risk communities.

‘Every year we keep topping the year before’

Chief Jesse Alexander is with the Yuba City Fire Department, north of Sacramento. He along with 51 other firefighters have been on the front lines of some of the most devastating fires in California’s history.

He lists several of the most horrific fires that California has ever seen. He fought the Camp Fire within his own community and explains the toll it takes on the department.

“The Camp Fire impacted you because of the loss of life and devastation, it’s overwhelming.” The Camp Fire was the most deadly and destructive wildfire in California’s history — killing 85 people and nearly wiping the town of Paradise off the map. It burned nearly 19,000 structures. Luckily Alexander’s home was spared.

“Every fire is different, but it seems to keep escalating. Every year we keep topping the year before,” said Alexander.

Alexander said his department will deploy for several weeks at a time. “Especially when there is a fire with a large loss of life, those start to take a toll on you.”

He and his colleagues are many times fighting fires while they don’t know if their own families are safe or if they will have a home to return to. It’s a grim reality they face, yet they continue to fight on the front lines.

Staying fire aware

Clements and his students will continue their bi-weekly treks, visiting sites to check for growth. They hope in the tiny window that’s left for growth, plants will quickly begin to sprout. “Fuel moisture content is one of the most important factors of fire behavior. It’s very critical, so we are constantly monitoring,” said Clements.

But in the meantime, Clements stresses the importance of the public staying vigilant. “If we don’t have an ignition, then we don’t have a fire,” he said.

Check the fire weather in your area

“People need to be aware there is a high threat and this year that threat is coming earlier. The grasses are drying out sooner, so things are quicker in terms of us getting into that extreme fire season. Be careful you aren’t a part of starting these fires,” said Kurth.

The weather service also suggests that people should make a defensible space if they live in vulnerable areas.

Create a buffer between vegetation and your home. Also, have a “go bag” and a plan ready in case you need to evacuate. The time to plan is now, before it’s too late.

OREGON LEGISLATIVE NEWS:

— Democrats have agreed to give up an advantage in redrawing the state’s political districts for the next 10 years in exchange for a commitment from Republicans to stop blocking bills in the Oregon Legislature with delay tactics. Oregon Public Broadcasting reports the surprise deal was reached Wednesday evening after a weeks-long standoff. With the agreement, Democrats, stymied so far despite holding supermajorities in both legislative chambers, appear to have gained an easier path to passing much of their agenda. But they’ve essentially granted veto power to
Republicans, who can now block any map of legislative or congressional districts from passing.

— Democratic U.S. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon is voicing his support for a proposal to end the draft. Wyden, who is co-sponsoring the bill, says the Selective Service program disproportionately harms disadvantaged young men and should be eliminated. He adds that it costs 25-million dollars a year to operate. Republican co-sponsor Senator Rand
Paul of Kentucky says it’s been 50 years since the draft was used, and he believes thatif Congress votes to declare a war, people will volunteer to serve.

— Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley is one of the chief sponsors for a bill that proposes greatly expanding Medicare access — a potential stepping stone to “Medicare for All,” Merkley’s office said in a statement. Merkley joined Democratic Senators Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Dianne Feinstein of California in introducing the bill, dubbed the Choose Medicare Act. According to Merkley’s office, the bill would allow anyone who is not currently eligible for Medicaid or Medicare the opportunity to enroll in Medicare as an individual, and allow employers the ability to purchase Medicare coverage for employees. If passed, the bill would create an addendum to Medicare,
called Medicare Part E, that would be open to consumer access. Merkley’s office said that the Medicare expansion would be “fully paid for by premiums” and would be offered on all state and federal exchanges. Current Affordable Care Act subsidies would then apply to help pay for it. Employers would also be able to choose the new Medicare Part E instead of a private insurance plan.

Money, Money, Money, and Redistricting
April 15, 2021
Let’s talk money, specifically, money for our district! I also have updates about the redistricting process.
Money for our District – In my last newsletter, I mentioned the upcoming virtual hearings for the state budget. I want to emphasize how important it is for my constituents to participate.
This is our chance for Southern Oregon to share our thoughts, views and priorities for the state budget. Often, the budget is controlled by the interests of the bigger, urban residents of our state and the rural voices aren’t prioritized. This is our time!
Oregon is receiving $1.9 trillion in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan. These funds will include a tax break on some unemployment benefits, an expansion of unemployment benefits, expansion of vaccination programs and funding for state and local government.
As part of the funding for state and local government, legislators were given to the opportunity to apply for grant money for our districts. I requested $54 million for House District 3.
The legislature is taking public testimony from Oregonians and I encourage you to participate and voice your support for these project and other Josephine County priorities.
On Saturday, April 17th, you can testify on these funding requests:*replacement of the Grants Pass Branch library building
(Written testimony for these requests can be submitted between now and 1pm on Sunday, April 18th HERE. If you want to give oral testimony by phone or web camera, you must register by 1pm on Saturday, April 17th HERE.)
On Thursday, April 22nd, you can testify on these funding requests:*updates to the Cave Junction branch library*new water distribution center for City of Cave Junction*new building for the Williams branch library*rehabilitation of the Illinois Valley Airport runway*updates to the emergency response of Grants Pass Airport*restoration of the Oregon Cave Chateau*development of public parking in downtown Cave Junction*expansion of Jubilee Park*renovations to the Junction Inn
In addition to the projects listed above, I have also requested Capital Project funds to complete the Illinois Valley Homeless Shelter project. You can also support this project though it is not through the American Rescue Plan funds.
(Written testimony for these requests can be submitted between now and 1pm on Friday, April 23rd HERE. If you want to give oral testimony by phone or web camera, you must register by 5:30pm on Thursday, April 22nd HERE.)
If you need help submitting testimony or registering to testify, please contact my staff at 503-986-1403 or rep.lilymorgan@oregonlegislature.govRedistricting Updates
You may have heard the news that came out late last night that Republicans have agreed to stop requiring bills to be read in full on the House Floor. I know this will be discouraging news to many of you. However, I want to share the reason WHY our caucus agreed to this. In exchange for speeding up Floor session, Republicans have gained an additional seat on the Redistricting Committee. Instead of the committee being run by the majority party, the committee will now have an even split of Republicans and Democrats. This committee is in charge of deciding the boundaries for legislative districts and will have implications for the next ten years. This was a huge win for Republicans as we now have a voice at the table that matters and can make decisions. This article has more details about last night’s negotiations.

All my best,

KNOW WHAT’S BELOW, CALL 811 BEFORE YOU DIG
April is National Safe Digging Month

Oregon Utility Notification Center – Call Before You Dig

SALEM, Ore. – In honor of National Safe Digging Month, Oregon’s Public Utility Commission (PUC) reminds Oregonians to call 811 at least two business days before digging to have underground utility lines marked to avoid life-threatening injuries and prevent damage to necessary services.  

“With the continuation of the pandemic into 2021 and the return of nice weather, we recognize more people may be spending time doing yard-improvement projects, so we want to remind homeowners and contractors to call 811 before any digging is done to reduce the risk of striking an underground utility line,” said Megan Decker, PUC Chair. “This is essential to ensure utility services are not interrupted for community members as we continue to deal with COVID-19, as well as to avoid costly repair bills.”

The Oregon Utility Notification Center, who operates the free 811 one-call center, notifies the utility companies that serve the area of the planned project. Utility personnel then visit the project site to mark the approximate location of the underground lines, pipes and cables in the planned digging area at no cost to the homeowner. 

“Never assume a digging project is too shallow and won’t hit a utility line,” added Decker. “Whether planting a tree or a shrub, building a deck, or installing a fence, always call 811 at least two business days ahead to have your lines located. This is the only way to know what’s below.”

Statistics show that a majority of line strikes occur during the warmer months when excavation and construction work is being done. In 2019 an estimated 453,766 line strikes occurred nationwide, 22 percent of which were due to insufficient notice to the 811 service.

Call 811 or visit digsafelyoregon.com to submit a locate request or to learn more about safe digging practices.

NASA Launches Research Balloon Over Oregon

Pamplin Media Group - NASA balloon set for release in Madras

A NASA-sponsored research team launched the balloon at about 6 a.m. Thursday from the Madras Municipal Airport. The balloon carried a 100-pound cone-shaped device that later in the day was dropped with a parachute over the high desert east of Prineville.

The 150-foot-tall balloon, made of plastic thinner than a sandwich bag, rose above the high desert at sunrise with the goal of helping future missions in space. The helium-filled balloon shined in the early morning sunlight as it disappeared into the atmosphere, on its way to an altitude of 110,000 feet.

“That went well,” said Kevin Tucker, president at Near Space Corp., who oversaw the test flight. “It’s always interesting. The wind was actually changing, and that’s a big deal. We were very careful about that.”

Tucker’s company, which produces balloons for scientific tests, partnered with researchers from the University of Kentucky to launch the balloon and test a delivery system that could be used to return individual items from the International Space Station back to Earth. The team tracked the balloon’s flight Thursday and recovered the dropped device.

“The Kentucky team will be gathering a lot of data as this travels from 110,000 feet back to the Earth’s surface,” Tucker said before the flight.

The university engineering students call the delivery system the Kentucky Re-Entry Universal Payload System and their research was sponsored by NASA’s Flight Opportunities program, said NASA spokesperson Megan Person.

“The flight aims to enable testing of the technology’s electronics and communications systems in preparation for further research as part of a commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station later this year,” Person said.

NASA regularly identifies projects, such as the balloon launch, and connects research teams with companies and locations to help generate a test. In this case, NASA connected the Kentucky students with Tucker’s company and coordinated with the Madras airport.

“Today’s successful flight is one example of how the Flight Opportunities program helps advance promising space technologies before they move on to riskier orbital missions,” said Paul De Leon, NASA Flight Opportunities campaign manager.

Tucker and his crew originally scheduled the balloon flight Wednesday, but called it off because of high winds. On Thursday, conditions were mild enough to allow the launch.

Tucker, who runs his company out of Tillamook, said Madras was the ideal location for the balloon flight. The open spaces around Madras offer several options to drop and retrieve the device from the balloon, Tucker said.

In addition, the Madras airport is smaller and quieter than other commercial airports in the region, which allows the team to work without interfering with other aircraft. The team still has to coordinate with the Federal Aviation Administration.

“The airport doesn’t have a huge amount of traffic,” Tucker said. “We are not causing mayhem if we do a launch.”

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