There were a few defining moments in my childhood. One of them was the discovery of the Cosmos TV show in the early 80s’. Apparently, I was so captivated by the show that I got a copy of the book for my birthday that year. It was a spark that made Science and technology one of my life’s focuses. Gazing at the curvature of the earth, the deep darkness of space and the thin pale blue atmosphere always impressed me. What I started to comprehend at that time was that the sky was very much like the shore of the Mediterranean Sea I used to walk as a child. Shore, some of our predecessors decided to leave, taking huge risks, but gratified with discoveries of new worlds. The sky was definitively not the limit, but the gateway to new words. The shore of the cosmic ocean as Carl Sagan said.
And we all go on with our lives, putting an end to the daydreams. Until the day – thanks to some silly clips seen on YouTube or a blockbuster flick – the child awakes and dreams again. Sure, I will not travel in space. Wrong times, wrong guy. Traveling into space is not yet as easy as taking the bus. But our era has its share of coolness too. Today, we can reasonably get into the skies and take a peek – for real – at that shore. We can get out there, just ankle-deep, and run back to the safety of the beach.
Yes, we can do it today. It has been done many times by others before. And why not after all? Let’s build a small payload and use a weather balloon to get as high as possible. And let’s craft some experiment and C code – so I can break my personal run-time altitude record ;-). With the help of few friends, a group of amazing co-workers, and a former flight controller for the International Space Station at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, founder of High Altitude Science, we did just that last Wednesday. What a blast! We reached the whooping altitude of 97,000 feet!
We used an Eagle Pro Near Space Kit as our platform. In addition to the Eagle Flight Computer, two Galileo boards were lifted into the air. One static – just for the shot and to add our Single Board Computer to the Hello Kitties, Robby the robots or the soda cans –, and one live to run our experiment & C code (to capture some flight parameters). To finish-off our ship: two GoPro cameras to immortalize the view. I will come back, later on, all the cool tech details, no worries.
So what did I learn? Plenty. Bunch of science and technology for sure. But even more than with the right help, a team can make pretty amazing things. And the biggest gratification: to see the curvature of the Earth. So let me share it with you right away. May it awake the daydreamer that sleeps in you! And to all kids out there who may read these lines, I have one simple message: science is really cool!