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Andrew Robinson
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Amateurs launch balloon into space equipped with cameras

John Hennessey was intrigued when news broke earlier this year that a pair of teenagers in Toronto managed to send a Lego man into space on a weather balloon.

“When I saw that, I basically thought to myself, if two teenagers in Ontario in high school no less can do this and succeed, we should be able to do it and succeed,” said Hennessey.

From there, the seeds were planted for a project that would see the Memorial University master of science in medicine candidate and his friend, Amarnath Mukhopadhyay, a research assistant at a MUN laboratory, do just that.

The pair launched a weather balloon made of totex (an ultra-elastic form of latex) on Sept. 29 equipped with two cameras — one for video and the other to take pictures. According to Hennessey, this is the first time that near-space photography was been taken over Newfoundland.

An edited video of the journey has been posted on YouTube.

Initially believing a helium-filled balloon would be the best route for reaching the lower stratosphere, Hennessey soon became aware of the global helium shortage. They were forced to change their plans and instead use hydrogen — a gas that’s highly explosive when mixed with oxygen.

“We had to be super-careful when we handled it,” said Hennessey.

Hennessey said Pasadena was chosen as the launch site given it would reduce the likelihood that the payload containing the cameras would land in water.

After reaching a height of over 30 kilometres above the Earth’s surface one hour and 15 minutes after it was launched at 11 a.m., the balloon popped. By that point, Hennessey and Mukhopadhyay had made their way to Deer Lake to grab a coffee.

The GPS unit the pair used to track the balloon was no longer responding given the height it had reached. Once they regained a signal, they waited for it to land. The payload landed unharmed with the aid of a parachute in a Millertown Junction wetland area two hours and seven minutes after the launch, 96 kilometres east of the launch site.

Thinking it would be easy to find, Hennessey and Mukhopadhyay were instead forced to camp beside a dirt road that night before finding it the next day during a search that took several hours.

Given the success of the first launch, Hennessey said they are now curious about sending another balloon to space in the winter to capture a snow-covered Newfoundland.


To view the video, CLICK HERE.

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Recent comments

  • John in Whitbourne
    October 15, 2012 - 22:01

    Hydrogen is not quite a 'highly explosive' gas. It is far less dangerous by weight than propane, natural gas or gasoline. All three of those are in common everyday use. Almost all of us use gasoline in our cars, my mother uses natural gas in her furnace, water heater and a fireplace in Ottawa. Almost everyone in Newfoundland and Labrador (with the possible exception of Kevin Blackmore) uses propane safely in their barbecue or camp stove. The only form in which hydrogen is more dangerous than any of the above is when a concentration of the isotope Tritium is in direct proximity to an atomic explosion of fissionable Uranium or Plutonium. This is known as a Hydrogen Bomb.

  • Donna
    October 15, 2012 - 21:24

    Very interesting story!! Well done!!

  • Jim
    October 15, 2012 - 21:21

    How about a link to the video, please?

    • Ken Simmons
      October 16, 2012 - 09:22

      Good idea - we have added a link.