Budget balloon takes NASA-quality space photos
British man used cheap digital camera, duct tape and a helium balloon to take photos that would have cost NASA millions.
Mon, Mar 29, 2010 at 03:06 PM
A little ingenuity, duct tape and helium was all it took for Robert Harrison to journey into space … and garner a phone call from NASA. The British IT director’s inexpensive camera rig takes breathtaking, high-altitude photos for millions less than what the space agency spends to achieve similar results, according to the Times Online (UK).
For The Icarus Project, Harrison enclosed a basic digital camera in a flight box, equipped it with GPS, attached it to a helium weather balloon and let it fly to heights about 35,000 meters above sea level. The camera and GPS were wrapped in loft insulation to protect them from the extreme temperatures high in the Earth's atmosphere.
The camera is also connected to a microcomputer that programs it to take photos five minutes apart, and various sensors that measure temperature, barometric pressure and altitude. The GPS allows Harrison to not only track the camera’s movement, but retrieve it when the balloon pops and it glides back to the ground from a small parachute.
The images captured by the camera amazed Harrison the first time he saw them — but he wasn’t the only one who was impressed.
"A guy phoned up who worked for NASA who was interested in how we took the pictures,” Harrison told The Times (UK). “He wanted to know how the hell we did it. He thought we used a rocket. They said it would have cost them millions of dollars.”