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As I think back to all of the fun things that my father and I did together when I was a kid, numerous Cub Scout activities come to mind such as the Pinewood Derby, but one particular favorite was launching model rockets. I remember wishing that there was a way that my rocket could go all the way up into space.
Fast forward about 30 years and Luke Geissbühler of Brooklyn, NY, who works by day as a Director of Photography on films, worked with his seven year old son Max — and other friends in a group he founded called the Brooklyn Space Program — to launch a homemade spacecraft all the way into the upper stratosphere. The contraption he built would need to be able to survive 100 mph winds, extreme cold temperatures, and a drop from 19 miles high at over 150 mph. It took eight months to design, but less than $500 to build. And it worked. I realize that this is the little boy in me talking, but oh-my-goodness what an an amazing father-son project!
How did he build it? He used a weather balloon to lift his 1.5 lb. spacecraft and a parachute to help it fall back to Earth. The spacecraft carried a GoPro Hero HD camera to record the flight. To keep track of the flight, he put inside the spacecraft an old iPhone 3G (that already had a cracked screen, donated by a friend) running the GPS Tracker app. [Click here for GPS Tracker (free): ] The GPS Tracker app sends information such as latitude, longitude, speed, and a timestamp every five seconds to the free InstaMapper website. Thus, during the flight, Geissbühler just had to view a page on the InstaMapper website to continuously monitor the iPhone as it ascended and descended and to locate the iPhone after it landed (in a tree). (Actually, the GPS could only pick up satellites below 50,000 feet, so for the second half of the flight he had to do some complex modeling to estimate the coordinates).
If it looks like something you might want to try, click here to learn of Geissbühler's plans to put together a how-to book. Click here for a New York Daily News story with quotes from Geissbühler. And best of all, here is the video: