February 4, 2013 | 14
NASA doesn’t have a lock on space exploration anymore. Just ask Lauren Rojas, a seventh grader in Antioch, Calif., who recently launched a balloon to 93,625 feet* using a do-it-yourself balloon kit from High Altitude Science. In addition to an altimeter, thermometer, satellite tracker and a host of cameras, Rojas added a decorative rocket ship piloted by a Hello Kitty doll her dad got her on a business trip in Tokyo. The video climaxes at the 2:15 mark, when the balloon, having expanded to 53 times its original size in the low-pressure environment of the upper atmosphere, explodes as planned, starting the kit’s descent to Earth:
The project is a terrific illustration of just how accessible the near-space environment has become. High Altitude Science was founded two years ago by Joseph Maydell, a flight controller for the International Space Station at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, who wanted everyone to experience the beautiful views of the planet that he got to see in the course of his work. And in the coming years, private space companies such as SpaceX and Virgin Galactic will start regularly flying rockets higher than the best weather balloons can fly. The benefit to space research—and to cheeky exploration videos—should be immense.
*: Yes, 93,625 feet is well short of the 62-mile-high Kármán line, the official boundary of space as recognized by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI). That shouldn’t diminish the excitement of the event.