The Orbital Perspective

Launching a Balloon (with Tiny Cameras) into Near Space
In January 2013, a Connecticut middle school science teacher, Geoff Bergen, and film director Rhett Youngberg, who together run the podcast site Almost Rocket Science, launched a balloon 20 miles above the Earth to capture stunning panoramic views. Their project, known as Earth 360, raised funds for the equipment and launch from online crowdsourcing site Kickstarter. They arranged tiny cameras in a circle and attached them, along with a GPS, to the tail of a white balloon, and sent it more than 100,000 feet into what is known as “near space.” This is an area, says Youngberg, that is “above 99% of the atmosphere. You’re going to get a pretty amazing view,” he adds.

The evidence of their amazing view can be found in pictures and video on their Earth 360 Facebook page and Almost Rocket Science site. Launched from Roscoe, New York, on a crisp winter day, the cameras, taking pictures every five seconds, produced panoramic images of a curved, snow-covered slice of Earth.

Youngberg said that before working on Earth 360, he and Bergen had attended a talk by astronaut Ron Garan in which the astronaut told the audience about the orbital perspective, the view of Earth from space. “That’s something we’re trying to encapsulate here with our project,” Youngberg says. “The fact that when you look at the Earth you don’t see borders, you don’t see nationalities, you see that we’re all one people—one human family.”

He and Bergen also hope that their successful launch—which ended when the balloon expanded to over 28 feet in diameter and popped, sending the remaining rig back to land—will inspire other citizen scientists. “We never hope to do what Google Earth does…but we really want to inspire people to do these kinds of scientific projects. With these little cameras that we have, it’s amazing what is possible.”