Two weeks ago, two teens from Toronto, Canada launched a weather balloon into space! Their names are Matthew Ho and Asad Muhammad and they are Grade 12 students from Agincourt Collegiate Institute, which is the oldest high school in Scarborough (a municipality within Metro Toronto area) Although Agincourt CI is well known for it’s music program in the area with four jazz bands, three concert bands, three orchestras (one of which are auditioned), three choirs (and again one is auditioned), and a guitar ensemble.
The two students, Ho and Muhammad spent four months worth of Saturdays jerry-rigging $400 worth of materials and two years of planning. They started in September, planning on how to build the Lego man balloon rig and the production as well.
Ho had already built a lightweight styrofoam housing for the cameras and was looking for Canon point-and-shoot cameras with a $500 budget and also took timelapse photos every 20 seconds.
Next came the parachute. It was by no means perfect after three weeks of hard work, but had finally made one. They tested it off the roof of Ho’s dad’s 40-storey building, much to the disdain of some residents
Next was the purchase of a professional $85 weather balloon online and bought $160 worth of helium from a local party supplies store and also a special wide-angle camera Ho was coveting.
At last Ho and Muhammad assembled their project, by carefully whittling away the space inside the Styrofoam box for the three point-and-shoot cameras, the wide-angle camera and a cell phone with a GPS app. They super glued a Lego man and a Canadian flag on a Lego plank for him to hold.
They discovered a website that calculates a weather balloon’s popping altitude and the site kept saying that the balloon’s landing spot would land in Rochester, NY, which would spell disaster for the duo. Finally they found that if they launched the balloon was launched in Newmarket, Ontario, it would end up in Peterborough.
The same afternoon at 2:30PM, the pair had set up their balloon and put mitten warmers to help keep the cameras working at high altitudes. At seven kilometers, the balloon had passed the range of cell phone towers and the GPS signal ended.
At 4:12PM, Ho’s iPad started to beep, signifying their rig had re-entered the atmosphere, a few minutes later, it had landed in Rice Lake, 122 kilometers away from the launch site. The next weekend their setup was retrieved.
Based on their calculations, the balloon had reached about 80,000 feet in one hour, five minutes before it’s 32 minute descent back to Earth. The teens were ecstatic when they uploaded the 1,500 photos and the two videos and did not expect them to turn out so well.
This is definitely a story of success, innovation and resourcefulness by teens, which makes me have faith in the next generation of students and innovators that are to come, not to mention a bit of pride since I had graduated from the same high school a few years earlier. I’m sure they made their parents really proud with this project.
(Source: The Toronto Star)