In America, space exploration has always been viewed as something of a manifest destiny. It was our duty to go forth and explore the cosmos. Somewhere along the evolution of our society, this has changed. I could wax the whimsical ideals of a generational gap or bemoan a shrinking budget and stifled economy. Simply put, I think space is no longer the final frontier it once was. So why or even how did a project like mine come into existence? Let me talk history first.
The father of using weather balloons as research items to launch into low orbit was Léon Teisserenc de Bort, the French meteorologist. His experiments from the Trappes observatory in 1896 led to the discovery of the tropopause and stratosphere. A resurgence in low orbit explorations happened in the eighties with the invention of the light weight shuttered camera, but these were still cumbersome and the picture quality was less than exciting. Retrieval was also a key factor in hampering would-be explorers. It was not until a decade later with the invention and mass implementation of GPS and HD cameras that the amateur explorer could launch his near space missions with great success in both recovery and photography, and launch they did.
There are currently no shortages of videos where trepid inventors launch overfilled balloons from a parking lot dangling a cell phone camera to 70,000 feet and proclaim to “explore space”. While I enjoy their excitement, I have to take a step back from the sensationalism. I’m amazed by the technology we have at our fingertips that even allow us the freedom to achieve this on a personal level, and I readily commend anyone doing projects in this vein regardless of aspiration or mission. However, my project differs slightly from what’s been done before.
One of my first priorities is to design a cheap reusable capsule robust enough to weather near space and have multiple launches. Second, I will use a six camera set-up for a complete visualization from launch to landing. Third, I will present the pictures and readings from my flight computer to everyone. While this project is a labor of love and personal goal, I also want to involve as many people as we can to try and bring back the wonderment and awe of that first time you saw a picture of earth and understood our place in the universe. Except this time, the picture will be one that you helped take.
The first two flights are scheduled for August 10 (during an expected meteor shower associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle) and December 14 (the time of a meteor shower caused by a Palladian asteroid). In addition to some great earth photography, my hope, though small would it be, is to catch a glimpse of a meteor entering the atmosphere. The realist in me understands this possibility is narrow at best, but a dream is something that should be fostered. The main function of the HD cameras will be to capture the curvature of the earth and near space objects. The flight computer will capture stratospheric sensor readings and relay GPS coordinates as we track the payload.
So, the natural question is “upon a successful mission and recovery, what are you going to do with all of this information”? I'm going to give it all away. This first mission is going to be funded by the people interested in low orbit exploration and they will be the first benefactors. Once I start pouring through all of the data and video I plan to create a free pdf documenting our experiences and how everyone can create and launch a self-sustained near space program. After multiple successful launches, using balloons that are meant to stay at a constant altitude for long periods of time would be the next step to explore. With that said, I want to get people interested in space and again show them how easy it is to explore with the help of friends, family, and the internet. If you'd like to support this race to the sun, check out the Kickstarter campaign.
This project is part of GOOD's Saturday series Push for Good—our guide to crowdfunding creative progress.
Image courtesy of NASA