Generally when you send something up in a weather balloon, you definitely expect it to come back down again soon. The only problem lies in all this is, what if you somehow lose the ability to track down your package… and the surface it lands in is a virtually endless desert up to 80 km away from your launch site? Gulp. That’s exactly what happened to this team of Arizona-based university students who desired to find out what their GoPro camera would see if they attached it to a weather balloon and eventually sent it to the verge of space over the Grand Canyon. The group’s video displays they weren’t precisely unprepared for the journey, either, spending months trying parachutes, computing wind trajectories, and custom 3D-printing their GoPro camera framework for its original flight.
Everything goes smoothly according to plan at first. The team release the balloon, which promptly rises to an altitude of more than 30 kilometres in less than an hour and a half. However, occasionally no amount of homework can fend off bad luck. As one of the group member narrates in a Reddit post, due to GPS and data reporting difficulties, their package’s return to Earth didn’t go quite as efficiently as scheduled: “We planned our June 2013 launch at a specific time and place such that the phone was projected to land in an area with cell coverage. The problem was that the coverage map we were relying on (looking at you, AT&T) was not accurate, so the phone never got signal as it came back to Earth, and we never heard from it…. The phone landed somewhat 50 miles [80 km] away from the original launch point, from what I recall. It’s a really far distance considering there’s hardly any roads over there!”
AT&T may well have been accountable for the team losing their device, but as luck would strangely have it, it would later come to the group’s rescue also. Two years after completely losing track of their GoPro, a worker of the company happened upon the device while walking in the desert. She was able to recognize the SIM card and return the camera – and its valued recorded videotape – to the owners.
An amazing story and a remarkable video.