Adventure: sending an iPhone and video camera to the edge of space
Oct. 25, 2010
by Mark Ollig

As a 10-year-old flying a kite one blustery day in late April, I recall wondering if I used enough string, could my kite soar high enough to be in space.

Not long ago, a young boy named Max, along with his father Luke Geissbuhler, decided to assemble a weather balloon with an attached homemade “craft” or capsule, and fly it into space.

Inside the capsule would be an iPhone 4 and a High Definition (HD) video camera, which would record the entire ascent into the stratosphere and the view from high above the earth.

While ascending, the balloon and capsule would have to survive turbulent 100 mph winds and freezing 60-degree below zero temperatures.

When the balloon reached its maximum atmospheric pressure limit, it would keep expanding until it burst.

The capsule would then have to withstand dizzying descent speeds of up to 150 mph.

The capsule would also need to deploy a parachute and transmit a GPS signal to a cell phone tower in order for them to locate it.

There was also a high risk of their capsule landing in water.

Sounds like quite an adventure.

The father and son designed their “space” capsule out of a small Styrofoam container and spray painted it bright orange.

Inside the container was foam cushioning, the iPhone, HD video camera, and portable hand warmers (the kind one uses during the winter), which were packed around the electronic devices to keep them from freezing.

To prevent the capsule from spinning around as it ascended, the balloon was attached to the capsule with stabilizing foam collars.

Tracking the capsule after it landed would be accomplished using the iPhones Global Positioning System (GPS) signals, which would be monitored via MobileMe.

MobileMe is an application folks can use to find their lost iPhones or iPads.

Max and his father would have enabled the “Find My iPhone” settings on the iPhone before it was launched.

By signing into the website, www.me.com, they will be able to locate the iPhone’s signal and have the capsules location displayed to them on a map.

Also inside the capsule was a brief note (hand written by Max), explaining what the person who found the capsule should do. Hopefully, the people finding this note will be Max and his dad.

The testing and preparations were completed. After eight months, following all FAA rules for weather balloons, the balloon and attached capsule were ready to leave this Earth and begin its journey towards space.

Max, his father, and a few friends, completed a final check list.

Making sure the camera was turned on, they launched the balloon with the attached capsule from Newburgh, NY.

The balloon quickly lifted off the ground, recording Max standing on a nearby rock.

The ascent was at a rate of 25 feet per second.

The video camera showed trees, homes, and other objects on the ground quickly becoming smaller.

At about 20,000 feet, the video camera displayed the blueness of the sky and the fluffy white clouds below it.

Audio is also being recorded along with the video from the capsule’s camera during the entire flight.

The sounds of swirling winds can easily be heard.

At 60,000 feet, 100 mph thermal winds are flipping the balloon and attached capsule end-over-end, but the video camera is still recording everything. This occurs 40 minutes into the launch and it will certainly be a big test for the durability of all the components.

As the capsule escapes above the thermal winds, it gently ascends to 90,000 feet.

The balloon itself has now stretched to 18 feet across and is one foot shy of its maximum expandability before it will burst.

The balloon and capsule have now attained a maximum altitude of 100,000 feet, (30.48 kilometers) almost 19 miles above the earth.

Elapsed time since launch is 70 minutes.

The view from inside the center of the stratosphere is remarkable.

The attached video camera is flawlessly recording the breath-taking bluish curvature of the cloud covered earth, along with the intense blackness of space.

While at maximum altitude, the balloon suddenly bursts. There is a short moment of weightlessness before the attached capsule begins its descent back toward the earth.

As the capsule rapidly descends, the video camera is still recording and the view of the earth quickly fills the screen, along with parts of the shredded balloon.

With only two minutes before reaching the ground, the video camera’s batteries fail, after 100 minutes worth of recording since launch.

The iPhone’s GPS tracking signal is working and the mapped location of the fallen capsule shows it is just 30 miles north of the launch area.

During the night-time hours, Max and his father find the remains of the balloon and the fully intact capsule in a tree, 50 feet off the ground.

A photograph from their web page shows a smiling Max standing alongside his father, who is holding the orange capsule.

The photograph is titled, “This thing went to space.”

So ends another adventure.

To see the edited video and read more, visit http://www.brooklynspaceprogram.org.

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