Thanks to a group of Prior Lake-Savage eighth graders, Peppa Pig is now an experienced traveler.

Three-hundred middle schoolers watched as two high altitude balloons floated into near-space Tuesday. Devices in the balloons' payload tracked their path, captured photographs and collected data on temperature, altitude and air pressure so students could analyze it in science class.

At the students' request, a figurine of Peppa Pig, the popular British animated character, went along for the ride.

The balloons climbed 85,000 feet -- 16 miles -- into the air, surpassing a goal of 80,000 feet.

"It went fantastically," said Becky Stark, the science teacher who led the project. "We had the perfect weather."

It was the first balloon launch for students at Hidden Oaks Middle School. Data collected showed a low temperature of -40 degrees and a maximum speed of 117 miles per hour, Stark said.

"It's one of the rare opportunities for [students] to get real data," Stark said. "This is actually real stuff -- we didn't know what we were going to get back."

A crew of 20 students worked after school with Stark and a University of Minnesota professor for two weeks to design and develop the balloons' payloads, or the cargo that collected the data.

The balloons finally touched down in Menomonie, WI, where Stark retrieved them. Students then studied the data in class.

Stark used a $1,000 grant to fund the project. She received the money last year from the Minnesota Science Teachers Association after winning their secondary-level science teacher of the year award.