Two 17 year old Toronto area high school students launched a Lego man 24 km into the mid stratosphere - and they have pictures and video to prove it.
Working weekends with a limited budget, they combined their interests of aviation and engineering and designed and built their 'spaceship' - a box which was lofted into the upper atmosphere by a balloon. Determined to build an inexpensive spacecraft, they built the parachute themselves. This required learning how to use a sewing machine first - all in the name of science. Total cost of the project - $400.
The video shows a Legoman and Canadian flag, securely fastened outside the box. The balloon lifts the assemblage to 24,000 metres before it pops and the box falls to Earth under a parachute.
The generally accepted boundary between atmosphere and space is 100 km - so this project only made it one-quarter the way there. But the pictures do show a dark sky and the curvature of the Earth.
More and more people are sending these electronics/camera packages into the upper atmosphere. This creates a growing concern for safety in the air. All it takes is an aircraft to hit one of these high-school experiments to cause a major tragedy. SpaceRef contacted Transport Canada for a statement however they could not comment on the story in time before we went to press.
Update January 27 1:30 pm: Transport Canada has provided a reply to our inquiries regarding Legoman. For future balloon flights to these altitudes, it is optional that people contact Transport Canada although safety is still an outstanding issue.
Here is Transport Canada's statement:
"There are two categories of balloons for the purposes of unmanned balloon flights: large balloons having a gas-carrying capacity of more than 115 cubic feet (3.256 m) (including two or more balloons joined together whose combined gas-carrying capacity exceeds 115 cubic feet (3.256 m)) and small balloons having a gas-carrying capacity of less than 115 cubic feet (3.256 m).
Large unmanned balloon flights are governed by the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs). It is the responsibility of the balloon operator to obtain the Minister's approval prior to the launch of a large unmanned balloon, including heavy scientific research balloons. In order to maintain an acceptable level of aviation safety, large unmanned balloon flights must comply with specific equipment and procedural requirements.
Small unmanned balloon flights are not governed by the CARs. Aviation safety is the primary consideration and if Transport Canada feels that the launch of a small unmanned balloon poses a hazard to aviation safety, the department will coordinate with appropriate authorities as necessary. Factors to be considered in making this determination include the date and time of launch, the size and number of the balloons being launched, the launch frequency and proximity to airports, and so forth.
While small unmanned balloon flights are not governed by the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs), it is recommended that Transport Canada (TC) be informed ahead of the launch to ensure that there is no threat to aviation safety posed by the launch. In some cases, TC will issue a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) to advise pilots of the launch."