Captains log, star date 12.May.2016, University Academy Kidsgrove’s Young Engineers team reached new heights of success.
In September of 2015 we began with a simple brief: “Take a selfie in space”. Over the course of the year we conducted a range of design tasks, testing of materials, camera positions, camera settings, laser cutting, insulation, and tracking devices to achieve an outcome that would help us to achieve a successful photograph unlike any other.
To enhance the project, we conducted a number of experiments based on altitude and temperature. The first was a sound test. You may remember the tag line to the 1970’s movie “Alien”, “In space, no one can hear you scream”, well we can verify that this is true and it begins at the altitude our project achieved! We attached a small sound device that played the same repetitive tune from Earth to an altitude in space where sound did stop, then on return to air it became audible again. The second was to test the temperature of space, reports of temperatures of -60 had been researched but we decided to test it in a more novel way using Ice Pops. We are pretty confident that no one else has ever sent Ice Pops into space to freeze, but we did. Ice Pops going boldly where no Ice Pop has gone before.
To add a further personal touch, members of the team had their faces printed and adhered to Lego figures, which we glued with a little note inside the bodies to skydive back to Earth! We wanted the Lego team to skydive from altitude and to be found by people who could email to notify us where they landed!
When we arrived at the site to launch, we received our annual greeting from UAK friend Jason Bradbury of Channel 5’s “The Gadget Show”, then began to fill our weather balloon with helium that would transport the payload to the upper reaches of the stratosphere.
Once the balloon had reached the correct pressure we set the cameras to record, sound device on, GPS trackers on, Raspberry Pi computer on, parachute on, balloon tethered and Lego figures were high fived for luck. Then we were there ready to go.
The balloon was full and eagerly pulling against gravity with twelve months worth of Design and Technology work hanging minutes from a journey that would take it to a place where the majestic beauty of the planet can be seen, improved only by a selfie of our team of course. With a simple release it was gone and climbing gracefully into the beautiful blue sky.
As we began to consider our plan, team members Daniel and Cathy were interviewed by “BBC Midlands Today” who were so impressed by their contribution, conduct and presentation that both the presenter and cameraman remarked on how excellent they were.
For the next few hours we began to track the direction and altitude up to approximately 32,500m (20 miles). Off we went tracking and chasing it across the beautiful Shropshire countryside, then disaster hit as all of the tracking instruments ceased broadcasting!
We drove to the last known broadcast position where our software had predicted it may land but it wasn’t there. It could have been anywhere in a landscape covering hundreds of square miles, with woodlands, lakes, rivers, roads, hills and valleys. The only positive thing at this point was that it totally distracted us from the fields of cow poo we had walked through and become covered in. No data signal, no phone transmission and no capsule, the one thing that we retained was hope. We just needed a plan; it was now thinking caps on and brew time at this late point in the afternoon. Whatever plan we came up with was a last gasp attempt as we had already taken in most of the Shropshire countryside and covered many miles on tarmac, crops, grass, gravel and mud.
The electronics weren’t responding so the only thing left was good old fashioned map reading, and predicting time and the flight path. With a plan, we drove out to a farm and walked collectively as a whole group to a point where we would divide into two groups to trace a predicted flight path, but as we began to descend a hill, a call from one of the team gave us all hope, “there’s something over there”. There was. We all walked for two full field lengths, over a small footbridge then a number of the team ran to whatever was in the next field. It was our capsule!
The joy and excitement of finding it was overwhelming! It was still playing the tune!
We carried it back totally amazed that we had located it using a plan that was our last gasp attempt, more so than the fact that this capsule had returned from space! And with that we returned it back to school to view the footage that left us totally amazed, there we were at the edge of the atmosphere, with images that had more of the blackness of space than the beautiful blue Earth below.
This had truly been a project that was out of this world, simply cosmic.