Two students from the Massachusetts Institute Of Technology (MIT) have managed to launch a simple point-and-click camera nearly 20 miles into the air using little more than helium, styrofoam, hand warmers and a weather balloon on a budget of less than $150.
The camera was launched high enough to capture the curvature of the planet, a remarkable achievement given the small amount of money that it took. Previous projects such as this have taken place of course, but this is believed to be the first time that it has been achieved for so little expenditure.
The camera was launched from Sturbridge, Massachusetts earlier this month, and reached a height of 93,000 feet before it fell back to Earth, a return trip that took 40 minutes before it landed approximately 20 miles away from its launch site. A GPS tracking system allowed the team to retrieve the package, which landed in a soft earth field. The Canon A470 camera had its firmware adjusted to take photographs at five second intervals, with an 8GB memory card providing enough capacity for the flight, which lasted for a total of five hours.
The MIT students have promised to publish a step-by-step guide on how to launch a flight such as this, although they are keen to stress that anyone attempting a similar experiment must clear it with aviation authorities first, and select a suitable site where the object will not hit a populated area upon re-entry and cause significant damage.
The project website can be found here. The picture above is credited to Justin Lee and Oliver Yeh.