What can a team of innovative Civil Air Patrol cadets with $300, an AT&T Blackberry, and a weather balloon accomplish? You might be surprised.

Mark Flage, Cadet First Lieutenant at Stevens Point Composite Squadron, recently worked with a group of his colleagues on Project Hyperion, a near-space ballooning experiment conducted on a tight budget. With a local sponsorship of just $300, the cadets set out to learn more about the near-space environment while putting their teamwork skills to the test.

Organizing the experiment, the cadets had to get a little creative. First, they attached a weather balloon to a light cooler, which provided insulation for the electronics. A camera, along with hand warmers to keep it from freezing, sat inside the cooler. The balloon would carry the cooler and camera to space and back, ideally returning with images of the near-space environment.

The question that came up next was, “How do you track it?” The answer: Mom’s AT&T Blackberry, of course!

JerriDee Flage had no idea when purchasing her Blackberry that it would be sent to space and back. But once the experiment had been launched, the cadets would need a way of finding it again. After researching and comparing online coverage map for several wireless carriers Mark determined that AT&T’s coverage in the area would provide the best coverage needed for his project. So, the ever-supportive mother became the proud owner of a space-traveling Blackberry. 

Thanks to that Blackberry, the cadets were able to track the location of the experiment on the Internet and when it returned to Earth, they were able to find it again. Inside the cooler, the camera had survived and the images captured were breathtaking.

With a limited budget, the cadets had achieved the same results as many aerospace engineers regularly do with thousands of dollars. The photos show a peaceful, glowing Earth below a thick, swirling blanket of clouds. Seeing the weather from this angle and the environment outside of Earth’s atmosphere provides unique insight for the scientific community.

Project Hyperion was deemed a success by all involved.