No, not you personally. But if you’ve ever thought about sending anything up into space, you may want to listen to this story about a couple of MIT students. For less than $150 in parts, with an amazing ease of assembly, they managed to send a device up to the brink of space, take some pictures, and recover the wreckage. At its apex, their entire apparatus reached an altitude of 93,000 feet (more than 28 km), sending it high into the stratosphere, high enough to take this picture:
Well, it isn’t technically “space”, but it is above more than 90% of the atmosphere and is certainly very, very impressive. How did they do it?
First off, they bought a weather balloon and filled it with helium. They attached a styrofoam beer cooler to the bottom of the balloon, and placed an inexpensive programmable digital camera inside of it, along with a cheap cellphone with GPS tracking. And that’s really it, except for small things like hand-warmers (for the camera, not their hands), batteries, and a memory card. (You can read a little more of their story here.)
After going to the University of Wyoming’s Balloon Trajectory Predictor, they drove out West (since the prevailing winds would blow it from West to East), launched the balloon (which they could do legally, since the entire apparatus — minus the helium — weighed less than four pounds), and drove back East, and waited. It took about 4 hours for the balloon to pop due to incredible differences in pressure, and another 40 minutes for it to free-fall down to the Earth. (Styrofoam has a pretty low terminal velocity, which is why it took so long.)
So at the end of all of this, they used the GPS tracker to find it, and after recovering it, decided to release some of the images. There’s the maximum altitude one at the top of the page, but there’s also this one, where you can clearly see the curvature of the Earth (and click for the large version):
And this one, where you can see the popped balloon on the journey back to Earth. (And click for the large version.)
Total cost of supplies? $148, not including gas money and labor. I almost didn’t believe it, so I checked their list of supplies needed, and here was what they used:
They’re promising a step-by-step guide on their site at some point in the future, so that you, too, can do this. But how fantastic is this? Thanks to many of my readers for pointing this story out to me!