When seven-year-old Max Geissbühler wanted to make a homemade spacecraft, his father, Luke, was skeptical that it could be done. But with further investigation (and further lobbying from Max), they realized that a simple weather balloon combined with some modern technology would allow them to not only create a workable “spacecraft,” but make a video of its flight, as well, tracking its movement as it ascended 19 miles into the upper stratosphere.
The father-and-son team created a small capsule out of a fast-food container that they sprayed with insulation. They put a camera and an iPhone into the container and protected them from cold temperatures they would encounter with chemical hand-warming packets. Then they filled the balloon with helium, attached it to the capsule, and launched it from the town of Newburgh, New York. Its rapid ascent at 25 feet per second brought it through 100-mph winds to a maximum height of about 100,000 feet before the balloon burst, approximately 70 minutes after it was launched. A parachute attached to the capsule brought it back to ground only about 30 miles from its launch site; they found it thanks to a GPS application on the iPhone. Both the phone and camera were intact, and the camera recorded all but the last couple minutes of the flight.
The remarkable video that resulted has been a hit at video-sharing sites like Vimeo, where it has been viewed more than 3.7 million times in just one month. A website about the balloon project and possible future endeavors can be found here.