No matter how many times I see them, pictures of the Earth from space never fail to fascinate me and I wouldn’t be surprised to find that I was in the majority with that opinion… well there’s a least two people that do and they are Oliver Yeh and Justin Lee who have used their technical know-how and general curiosity to make a ‘homemade space camera’.
This photo taken by the camera is easily comparable to those taken my multi-million pound satellites, and yet this camera only cost the two MIT students £90 and paves the way not only for similar ‘budget space camera packs’ but could also inspire others to use the technology they have to do something different.
So how did they actually do it? Well you may well be quite surprised at the short list of simple things needed to assemble this kit: a cheap digital camera off eBay, a weather balloon, handwarmers, a drinks cooler and a mobile phone — and most of these still came back in one piece!
They made it by placing the camera inside the Styrofoam cooler (and cutting out a hole for the lens), attaching the handwarmers to the battery to stop it from freezing in the high altitudes. This, along with the mobile phone, was attached to the weather balloon and then allowed to float up into space.
The students had calculated that after 17 miles the weather balloon would pop due to air pressure, and upon doing so it would fall and release the parachute allowing it to drift safely back down to earth carrying the camera (which had been taking photos every five seconds) with it. They then used the phone to gain GPS co-ordinates which they then used to track the camera down when it had landed.
It was, as you can tell from the picture, very successful and in fact after 5 hours worth of vertical travelling the camera only ended up 25 miles from its starting point in Sturbridge, Massachusetts — quite possibly down to calculations made by the pair taking into account wind speed and direction to decide on the best day to do the experiment (which was the 2nd September).
Justin Lee, said: “We were like placing bets on whether we thought it would work or not. Early on, we were optimistic that it would work. About 4 hours after, [when] we hadn’t heard any news about the device, we had sort of given up hope. We’d thought we’d lost it.”
After finding the signal, Lee added: “We were so excited, we jumped right back into the car, and we drove out to Worcester, and we found it. That was a great moment.”
So what does this mean? Well obviously this is a pretty interesting story and not only goes to show what can be achieved with a little ingenuity and imagination but also what happens if intelligent students have too much spare time!
But given its success could we soon be seeing ‘DIY space cameras’ in our stores? Even the price that the pair in this case paid (£90) wasn’t overly expensive and by commercialising the process this will probably go down… so why not? Or you could go one better and make one for a loved one for Christmas (if you’re up to thinking that far in advance).