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Balloon and Duct Tape Deliver Great Space Photos 238

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the i-can-see-my-house-from-here dept.
krou writes "With a budget of £500, Robert Harrison used cheap parts, a weather balloon, some duct tape, a digital camera, and a GPS device to capture some great photos of the earth from space that resulted in NASA calling him to find out how he had done it. 'A guy phoned up who worked for NASA who was interested in how we took the pictures,' said Mr Harrison. 'He wanted to know how the hell we did it. He thought we used a rocket. They said it would have cost them millions of dollars.' The details of his balloon are as follows: he used 'an ordinary Canon camera mounted on a weather balloon,' 'free software' that 'reprogrammed the camera to wake up every five minutes and take eight photographs and a video before switching off for a rest.' He also ensured the camera was 'wrapped in loft insulation' to make sure it could operate at the cold temperatures. The GPS device allowed him to pinpoint the balloon's location, and retrieve the camera when it fell down to earth attached to a small parachute."
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Balloon and Duct Tape Deliver Great Space Photos

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  • Cool (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dancingmilk (1005461) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:57PM (#31615362) Homepage Journal

    This is awesome, kudos to the guy who pulled it off.

    Its also pretty sad that the engineers at NASA never thought of it...

  • BS? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by javakah (932230) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @03:03PM (#31615500)

    There are pictures, and even nice videos that come out every few months from folks playing around with high altitude balloons. It seems kind of unlikely to me that NASA would have just suddenly discovered this and been amazed. Until there is confirmation from NASA, I'm just going to assume this is BS, either made up by the guy, or some prankster called him.

  • Flat Earth Society (Score:4, Insightful)

    by starglider29a (719559) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @03:05PM (#31615518)
    He should send a complimentary set of plans to the Flat Earth Society. They could use the perspective.
  • Re:Cool (Score:5, Insightful)

    by perpenso (1613749) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @03:06PM (#31615542)

    This is awesome, kudos to the guy who pulled it off.

    Its also pretty sad that the engineers at NASA never thought of it...

    Actually the "NASA" types were doing that sort of thing many decades ago, pre maned space flight. If you gave this guy hundreds of millions for a budget he would have probably built a fancy rocket too.

  • by gimmebeer (1648629) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @03:11PM (#31615632)
    ...this guy could be a leading US space pioneer for the next decade or so.
  • Re:Not Space (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Aranykai (1053846) <[slgonser] [at] [gmail.com]> on Thursday March 25, 2010 @03:17PM (#31615734)

    True, but "Balloon and Duct Tape Deliver Great Really High, Almost Space Photos" doesnt have the same ring.

  • Re:Cool (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Garble Snarky (715674) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @03:43PM (#31616172)
    Curiosity isn't limited by "jurisdiction".

    He wanted to know how the hell we did it. He thought we used a rocket. They said it would have cost them millions of dollars

    How do you read that and not interpret it as NASA simply inquiring about their methods?

  • by Carnildo (712617) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @03:57PM (#31616440) Homepage Journal

    Exchange rates between pounds and dollars are a bit tricky. Sure, 500 pounds will get you $750 at the bank, but, especially when dealing with high-tech stuff, 500 pounds will buy you about the same amount as 500 dollars.

  • Re:Cool (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bigjeff5 (1143585) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @04:33PM (#31617152)

    They've never done it for under $1000 though, which this guy did.

    NASA's balloon would have been expensive mylar, a convoluted parachute deployment system, and vacuum insulation (which is utterly unnecessary) for the insulation of the $10,000 camera they would have used. The GPS and Camera timing software would have been custom, adding thousands more to the cost. I can't imagine NASA doing a balloon based imaging mission that cost them less than $50,000 in parts and another $200,000-$300,000 in engineering time.

    And the results would be about the same.

    That's why they were like "Holy crap, you did that for how much?" It's not that he did it, we've sent people to the moon - we know we can get these amazing shots whenever we are willing to spend the cash. It's that he did it so cheaply, with off the shelf and home-brew kit. Doing it for under $1000 is significant.

  • FA is a troll (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GoodNicksAreTaken (1140859) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @04:52PM (#31617454)
    FA is a troll and the article likely would not have been published if it wasn't a UK news outlet and didn't include a jab at NASA. NASA funds Spacegrant Consortiums doing high altitude balloon research at several US universities. The one I worked on was very similar except we had a license amateur radio operator so we could legally use an APRS system for tracking the balloon. Back then where was no CHDK to use for a cheap Canon camera so camera was controlled by a 555 timer circuit wired to the shutter button. The highest cost was the helium when you figure in the cost of storing large tanks of compressed gas. Our system was slightly more expensive because the payload usually also contained a logging system that stored additional sensor data like temperature and pressure.
  • by Nefarious Wheel (628136) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @06:30PM (#31618726) Journal
    I feel sad that people are willing to think of other people as stereotypes. People are better of considered as individuals who think and move and change their minds, who grow and develop and make friends and study and learn new things. Putting them in a box is always wrong.

    Any kind of box.

You can measure a programmer's perspective by noting his attitude on the continuing viability of FORTRAN. -- Alan Perlis

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