When some students get together to attach a GoPro camera to a weather balloon, send it up into the stratosphere, and lose track of it, you might think the story ends there. In 2013, Bryan Chan and his friends in Arizona did exactly this, but thanks to a woman on a hike they’re now able to share the amazing footage their rig captured with the world.
Chan shared the money shot he and his four friends retrieved from the GoPro in a reddit post in the /r/pics subreddit. The shot, taken above the Grand Canyon, shows a stunning view of a blue and brown Earth. In a reply to a comment, Chan shared the background story.
The project took a couple months of planning and was nearly scrapped because of higher-than-expected helium costs, according to Chan. He and his friends used the GPS on a smartphone and a tracking app to get updates on the rig’s location via SMS when it returned to Earth.
“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,” Chan wrote in his reddit comment. “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.”
Two years later, a woman who (funny enough) works at AT&T found their smartphone while on a hike. She brought it back to an AT&T store and identified the SIM card’s owner. The rest is online viral history.
The GoPro rig hit a maximum altitude of 98,664 feet and was in flight for 98 minutes. It landed about 50 miles away from the launch site.
To see the drop tests, 3D-printed chassis, and actual footage from the flight, see the video above.