Hopkins Academy

One Small Step For Teens, One Giant Leap For Lego-Kind

In News on April 4, 2012 at 12:27 pm

So technically, Lego Man didn’t make it into space; he only made it about halfway. But launching a homemade spacecraft 80,000 feet into the Earth’s atmosphere is still pretty impressive.

Two teenage Canadian boys, Matthew Ho, Asad Muhammad, both 17, sent Lego Man into Earth’s stratosphere on a homemade weather balloon spacecraft. The boys, who both live in Toronto, Canada, said they were inspired by they were inspired by a YouTube video made by MIT students who performed a similar experiment.

The boys, who live in Toronto, Canada, worked on preparing their experiment for four and a half months. Spending less than $500 on the entire experiment, the teens constructed their spacecraft by hand, and relied on only the internet to help them prepare for take-off. Using the aid of a website, the boys calculated the estimated landing spot of their spacecraft based on the coordinated of their launching spot, potential winds, and other various data. After purchasing a professional weather balloon online for $85, the boys made a spacecraft out of Styrofoam. The product of their spacecraft planning was a lightweight, Styrofoam box carrying three point-and-shoot cameras, a wide-angle video camera, and a cellphone with GPS navigation. The cameras were surrounded by store-bought hand-warmers so that they would continue to work once they had reached the -4F temperatures.  Lego man rode aboard their spacecraft, carrying a Canadian flag, as the boys chosen astronaut. The last addition to their spacecraft was a homemade parachute, sewn on Muhammad’s mother’s sewing machine, to make sure that Lego man would return to Earth safely.

The weather balloon was filled with $165 worth of helium, purchased from a local party supply store. The boys filled the balloon so full, that it was apparently near bursting. Why so full? Their theory was based on the idea that the less you fill a balloon, the farther it would travel. Because the teens did not want to travel far to retrieve their spacecraft, cameras, data, and Lego man, they wanted it to travel the least distance possible. They were also worried that, because they are surrounded by so many Lakes, their spacecraft would land in a watery grave. To prevent these things from happening, they theorized that by filling their balloon with so much helium, the spacecraft would just go up and down, rather than travel a far distance.

On January 26, 2012, Ho and Muhammad launched their spacecraft, Lego man and all, from a nearby soccer field located in Newmarket, Ontario. After about an hour, the weather balloon had reached 80,000 feet, or about 15 miles into the Earth’s stratosphere. If Lego man had eyes, he would have been able to see the curvature of the Earth at this height. At this point, the cellphone was out of signal range and the GPS signal was unable to be picked up. The boys solemnly walked home, thinking that they had lost their beloved space craft.

Sometime later, Ho’s iPad began to beep, signaling that the GPS was back in signal range and was working again. This also meant that Lego man was back in Earth’s atmosphere, and was traveling back to the ground. The weather balloon had popped due to pressure from the atmosphere, and Lego man was now floating safely back to Earth with the help of the homemade parachute. The total journey was 97 minutes, and was recorded on the cameras in the spacecraft. The craft touched down in a field approximately 75 miles from the original launch site, according to the location shown on the iPad. With the help of the GPS signal being sent to the iPad, the boys were able to retrieve their spacecraft and view their video of the journey.

Boys Launch Homemade Spacecraft, Lego Man, Into Space

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