Into space for $150

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader, while geeky, is not a geek. Sad but true.

When he reads stories of real geeks having cool ideas and carrying them through he feels stupid. Or at least unimaginative and uninspired. (Damn… He must still be funkified…)

So when your Maximum Leader read of how two MIT students spent $150 and got cool photos on a digital camera from space he was feeling particularly uninspired (himself) but proud of their accomplishment. The cool bits:

The two students (from MIT, of course) put together a low-budget rig to fly a camera high enough to photograph the curvature of the Earth. Instead of rockets, boosters and expensive control systems, they filled a weather balloon with helium and hung a styrofoam beer cooler underneath to carry a cheap Canon A470 compact camera. Instant hand warmers kept things from freezing up and made sure the batteries stayed warm enough to work.

Of course, all this would be pointless if the guys couldn’t find the rig when it landed, so they dropped a prepaid GPS-equipped cellphone inside the box for tracking. Total cost, including duct tape? $148.

The balloon and camera made it up high enough to see the black sky curling around our blue planet. The Canon was hacked with the CHDK (Canon Hacker’s Development Kit) open-source firmware, which adds many features to Canon’s cameras. The intervalometer (interval timer) was set to shoot a picture every five seconds, and the 8GB memory card was enough to hold pictures for the five-hour duration of the flight.

The picture you see above [ed: not reproduced here] was shot from around 93,000 feet, just shy of 18 miles high. To give you an idea of how high that is, when the balloon burst, the beer-cooler took forty minutes to come back to Earth.

Justin Lee and Oliver Yeh… Your Maximum Leader doffs his bejeweled floppy cap in your direction. He will toast your ingenuity and know-how tonight. Color him impressed.

Carry on.

2 Comments »
Polymath said:

Kick Ass. The picture at the other end of the link is worth a click-through.

One wonders about the possibility of the cooler coming down in a hot LZ, like on top of the local slip-and-fall lawyer’s Mercedes…



Charles said:

That is incredible. God bless the geeks!



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